Thursday 18 April 2019

Deeply polarised Catalans go back to polls three months on

Ines Arrimadas, leader of the Ciudadanos’ in Catalonia
Ines Arrimadas, leader of the Ciudadanos’ in Catalonia

Karl Ritter

Voters are returning to the polls in Catalonia today in a regional election called by the Spanish government as a way out of the area's political crisis.

In Barcelona, the region's cosmopolitan capital, there is no sign of the independent country that Catalonia's former leaders proclaimed with great fanfare nearly two months ago.

The Catalan independence movement's leaders are in jail or have fled the country after staging a brazen October 1 referendum on secession which was declared illegal by Spain's government and highest court.

Catalonia has been left deeply polarised by this autumn's dramatic events. Many Catalans who had mixed feelings about independence, or did not care about the issue much, now feel compelled to take a position.

Gabriel Brau (50) said he will vote for the first time since the 1980s, and it will be for one of the parties that favours independence. Or rather, it will be against those who do not, because he finds them complicit in Spain's crackdown.

During the October referendum, Spanish police used rubber bullets and truncheons against voters and formed human barriers to keep them out of polling stations. Mr Brau said: "What happened on October 1 affected me in a powerful way. I was thinking: 'What if they did that to my son?' That is not democracy. I don't want these people to govern my country."

The other side has also been galvanised. Catalans who oppose independence previously kept a low profile. Coming out as a unionist, they said, would have resulted in scorn, insults and accusations of treason from pro-independence friends and neighbours. But in the aftermath of the referendum they gathered for the first time in rallies similar to those achieved by the independence movement.

Cristina Calaco (51) said she was so appalled by the way the secessionist leaders pushed through the referendum, "I wanted to pack my bags and leave Catalonia".

Irish Independent

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