Monday 17 June 2019

'My family call me a fascist if I dare to say anything against them'

People react as they watch a session of the Catalonian regional parliament on a giant screen at a pro-independence rally in Barcelona, Spain. Photo: Reuters/Ivan Alvarado
People react as they watch a session of the Catalonian regional parliament on a giant screen at a pro-independence rally in Barcelona, Spain. Photo: Reuters/Ivan Alvarado

Luis Felipe Castilleja in Madrid

Dinner at the Barcelona home of Catalonia-born Montserrat Armisen, an independence supporter, can be a tense affair.

"He criticises us and doesn't let us eat in peace," said Armisen of her husband, Gustavo Gomez, a Colombian who favours keeping the Spanish state intact, and their children, Jordi (18) and Nicolas (27).

"We go to our protests, return and don't say anything, but he just carries on," said Armisen (55). "It bothers us because there is no respect for us from him."

For many in Spain, the Catalonia crisis that threatens to fracture the country is also tearing at ordinary families and evoking painful memories of Spain's 1936-39 civil war.

The prospect that Catalonia, a former principality which prides itself on its distinct language and culture, might break away has created divisions across Spanish society.

Many in Spain regard Catalan secessionists as a noisy minority whose national identity is built on a misreading of history, ungrateful to a Spanish state that has underwritten the region's peace and prosperity.

In their turn, some secessionists decry unionists as "fascists", harking back to dictator Francisco Franco, who suppressed Catalan language and traditions after his forces won the civil war until his death in 1975. Most Catalans backed the Republicans against Franco.

Small groups of far-right activists have taken part in recent anti-independence protests, with a few giving fascist salutes or carrying the flag of the Falange, the dominant party under Franco. Neo-fascists are disowned by the vast majority of those who want to keep Spain intact but their appearance in public shows how the Catalonia crisis has re-opened some of Spain's most painful wounds.

"If I say things I am called a fascist," said Armisen's husband, Gomez (58), who has lived in Barcelona with his family for a decade. "Telling them they should not be independent is not being a fascist. Everything that has been done, in my view, is completely illegal," he says, adding that his wife had even asked him to leave home - something she denies. "What am I doing here?" Gomez said, holding back tears.

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has pledged to follow through on the region's independence from Spain after Catalans defied a ban and police crackdown and, according to his government's count, voted to break away in an October 1 referendum.

Madrid's reaction is likely to be swift and hard.

"There is no room here for appeasement, nor mediation, nor surrender. We have nothing to negotiate with coup plotters," Pablo Casado, a spokesman for Spain's ruling Popular Party, told reporters on Monday.

Rosa Borras (47) took part in a demonstration in favour of national unity in Madrid last weekend. Thinking of her relatives in Catalonia, the situation is deeply saddening, she said. "I've come because I feel very Spanish and it makes me very sad what's happened," she said. "I wanted to be here for unity, because I also feel very Catalan."

Mr Puigdemont's announcement sparked scenes of celebration outside the regional parliament in the streets of Barcelona, where thousands had gathered to watch on a giant screen.

Xavier Turo, a 45-year-old electrician, travelled to Barcelona from the village of Sentmenat with his wife to watch what he hoped would prove to be a historic day.

"We are nervous, but happy. We have been waiting a long time for this. Our government is risking their necks for us," Mr Turo said.

Not all Catalans in favour of independence are convinced that the current impasse will lead to a better future.

Xavier, who works as a secondary schoolteacher in Oxfordshire and preferred not to give his full name, said he was worried that he will return home to Catalonia to find a "continued state of occupation of state forces".

Although the 35-year-old is in favour of independence for Catalonia, he said he was critical of the fact that "there has been no debate about the future country. We cannot start building it like this".

Irish Independent

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