Local Catalans believe that Madrid’s behaviour towards Catalonia have left Spain’s richest region with no choice but to declare independence.
Walking through the suburbs of Barcelona at 10pm every evening, the call of protest is heard loudly, through the beating of pots and pans. Virtually unreported for years, the sound of locals signalling their wish for independence was the warning of a painful future Spain long chose to ignore.
Before the events of 1st October, where horrific images of policemen beating Catalan civilians made their way onto the world stage, the issue itself actually remained divisive amongst Catalans. ‘Probably, if Catalonia had voted seven years ago, the No vote would have won’ says Laia Font Moret, an English teacher from the Catalan village of Riumors. There is no conclusive evidence to argue this point, as despite 2015 local election turnouts of 80%, the two ‘illegal’ referendums regarding independence in 2015 and 2017 barely scraped 40% turnout apiece. Passionate nationalists regularly lined the streets of Catalan cities, but many also stayed at home. Without a way to clearly show that the majority of the region was pro independence, any political solution seemed impossible for nationalist parties.
Javier Ramos, a medical student in Barcelona, argues that the nationalists have cynically used recent events to encourage pro-independence sentiment, despite still having little proof the majority wish for it. ‘A few years ago they couldn’t even get 40% to vote for it. Even now thousands of people protest to stay with Spain, but they don’t talk about this’.
Laia, however, describes herself as having always been for independence. ‘My father lived through the Franco era. When he went to school you couldn’t speak in Catalan, only inside his house. The feeling that you couldn’t speak it outside, the fear that people were watching... It wasn’t just banned, you could be put in jail if you were found speaking it. I don’t want that to ever happen again’.
The memories of Franco’s dictatorship are still vivid for many nationalists, and a cultural identity different to the rest of Spain remains a popular reason for independence. Critics of the independence movement however, have suggested that money plays a stronger role than culture and language. Javier identifies this as the major issue. ‘Catalonia is indeed a great power in Spain, the second ‘motor’ to the country after Madrid. They pay a lot of taxes to Madrid and this makes them angry.’ There is a firm belief among nationalists that despite contributing the most through taxes, they receive proportionality very little back in spending. ‘Madrid nos roba’ as the local saying goes. Madrid robs us.
Daniel, 43, who works for Caixa bank in Barcelona, is one of many Catalans who were neutral on the subject for many years, until Madrid’s repeated actions convinced him independence was the only answer. ‘I was a neutral, but I’ve been radicalised due to the relationship with Spain. We keep trying to speak to them, to converse with them, and it is always the same result.’
Madrid’s handling of the 1st October referendum, appears to have now tipped popular opinion in favour of the nationalists. ‘Since the 1st October, we’ve become more passionate, neutrals now want to vote yes. Those who didn’t vote because they saw it as illegal now would want to vote yes’ says Laia. ‘What we saw was horrible, violence is never the answer. Anyone in their right mind would be against it’.
Daniel agrees with this assessment. ‘Since the referendum many people have changed their minds. As a people we just cannot understand why we’re in a position now where police are hitting us for wanting to vote’.
While Daniel was waiting to vote with his wife and children at a local polling station, organisers ran into the school hall to warn the voters ‘the police are nearby and they might be coming here next to stop you, to hit you. Please, those with children, take them away immediately’. Daniel took his children back to their home while his wife stayed behind to vote, communicating with each other over the phone. ‘I just can’t understand this situation,’ he said. ‘In my country, police hitting people. This day changed the minds of many Catalonian people’.
There has been a lot of discussion about propaganda on both sides following the lead up to the vote, with the Spanish foreign minister stating last week that the images of police violence was ‘fake news’. Speaking on the Andrew Marr show, Alfonso Dastis said that “Many of those pictures [of the police] have proven to be fake pictures. I am not saying that all are fake pictures, but some of them are and there have been a lot of alternative facts and fake news.”
Laia however, recalls the day of the vote in response to Mr Dastis’ statement. ‘I have a friend who was going to vote in Garrigàs, a small village of barely one thousand people. He sent us photos through a whatsapp group of the police. Thirty of them, blocking the entrance to the polling station. When you receive it through a whatsapp group, from a friend, a friend who is there… you realise that this is really happening.’
Whatsapp image recieved by Laia's friend in Garrigàs
The question many Catalan’s are now asking is where’s the response from other European nations. Many have demonstrated in the street, begging for Europe to help them in what they see as direct oppression from Madrid. ‘What would happen if, during the Scottish referendum, English police had gone up and started beating everyone?’ says Laia. ‘This would have been major news. It would have been seen as unforgettable, unforgivable. We feel let down by Europe right now. We feel lonely. Why haven’t they said a word? Where are they? Why did they let all this happen?’
When pressed if there was any possible way back now to a unified Spain, Javier is holding out for reconciliation. ‘I don’t know how exactly, I don’t know if it is possible. Time can heal problems but only if the main government try to understand the people, they need to talk to them. Not only Catalonia, but the Basque country, Galicia - the best way to keep them happy is to talk to them and understand them’.
Daniel however, sighs, ‘seriously, now, it is no longer possible. Both governments, the people in those governments, there are just too many fractures between them after all these years.’
‘There’s just no way back now.’