Plaça Jaume , home to Barcelona’s city hall and government offices, was quiet this morning; the calm before the storm perhaps. There were a few anti-independence supporters, bedecked in the Spanish flag. One of the flags had a bull on, as if to reinforce the point; bullfighting, never much beloved by the Catalan, was outlawed here in 2011, but the bull remains a potent symbol of traditional Spain. Behind them the buildings remain covered in signs pleading for democracy. The majority of people in the square were various media outlets, waiting for the news. Most nights in my square, I hear the 10pm ‘call to pots and pans’ (‘cacerolazo’) and up and down my street posters for the referendum are put up and taken down in quick succession.
Speaking to my elderly neighbour, Carmen, she is unsure as to whether she will vote. She says she will decide when she wakes up. Her granddaughter and daughter-in-law are insistent she should and that she should vote ‘yes’ i.e in favour of independence. She remains unconvinced. She seemed to be favouring the ‘no’ campaign. She asked what would Catalonia do if it really did ‘leave’ Spain? Foreign companies would go to other cities. Would the region be able to support itself? She added, ‘I’m Catalan, but what’s my nationality? Spanish. And who’s counting the votes? Pro-Indepenence people, that’s who. The vote is against the constitution and I don’t agree with it, however, I will vote as my family wants me to’. In contrast, for another younger neighbour separation can’t come fast enough. His concern is more about what will happen to Catalans’ money given the seizing of the Catalan finances by the Spanish government which the government says is to prevent any public money being used to pay for the referendum. My younger Catalan friends tend to be pro-independence and pro-referendum. Indeed, a majority of Catalans are pro-referendum which they see as being pro-democracy.
At my local fruit and nut shop, the manager said that they were determined to vote. Another customer said that they were going to get up at 5am, vote and then ‘occupy’ the schools and voting halls, making sure that everyone else could come and vote. Due to the Spanish government closing down internet sites which had been relaying information of where and when to vote, she had learnt about what to do from a whatsapp group. Other employees and customers said that they too were using that as a means of finding out about the vote. Most people are apprehensive.
Whilst they may be fervent in their desire to vote, almost all are concerned about any violence that may break out. Extra ‘Guardia Civil’ have been drafted into the area by the Spanish government. It’s important to note that the ‘Guardia Civil’ are a reminder to many throughout Spain, of Franco’s dictatorship as they were the enforcers of his regime. There is therefore an historical distrust of them and everyone here, when in need, is most likely to call the Catalan-beret-wearing ‘Mossos d’Esquadra’. And it is unsure what exactly will happen tomorrow when hundreds of thousands turn out to vote, among them the elderly and children accompanying their parents. Any physical attempts by the ‘Guardia Civil’, to prevent people voting would bring back repressed memories which often feel all too recent in Spain.
And therefore we wait. It seems almost impossible that by midnight tomorrow Catalonia could have voted to ‘leave Spain’. The polls will close at 8 or 9pm and a few hours later it should be clear what the result is. Given the fact that many may be prevented from voting and that the referendum is considered illegal by the Spanish government, has tenuous legitimacy given that the board to oversee it was dissolved, anti-independence parties have told their supporters to boycott the vote, it is hard to fully grasp the situation. Daily life continues much as normal. The myriad tourists passing through the city remain largely in ignorant bliss of what may happen tomorrow, but stop at the market stall, chat to the shopkeeper and listen to those in the bakery and it is clear that the referendum is very much on everyone’s mind.
As someone who has lived through two referendums in the past few years; the one on Scottish independence and the one on exit from the European Union, it seems that in my particular case, they are like buses and come along in threes. Referendum results in my experience, don’t seem to resolve anything; indeed, they tend to reinforce divides. Equally however, people fought for their right to vote, even laid down their lives for the right to vote in the case of women. My feeling is, however, one of resignation that tomorrow will not resolve anything and that in a country where civil war is something that was lived through by its older generation, this referendum could have far more serious consequences.