A tale of two cities

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As the storm clouds gathered over Barcelona this morning, they were an apt metaphor for what was to come. By the end of the day, the gloomy sky was still in evidence, but the violence meted out by the National Police has become the real storm brewing.

In football terminology, football being the true lifeblood of this city, this was a game of two halves, however.  I saw a polling station in Barceloneta which remained peaceful through the day. The voters queuing up, were watched by four local police officers (Mossos d’Esquadra) who stood at a distance doing little other than chatting among themselves. The mood was upbeat. Initially there had been some technical issues (these were widespread at polling stations across Barcelona) resulting in the crowd chanting ‘votarem’ (we will vote). However shortly after, the polling station opened and those who were first to vote were greeted by applause and cheers when they exited, having cast their vote.  Returning here at various points throughout the day, I didn’t witness any violence and there were no Guardia Civil officers in evidence. Indeed, when a patrol car of the Mossos d’Esquadra passed through the throng, doing nothing to prevent the vote, they crowd applauded the car.

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This morning I saw another neighbour, Maria, heading out and she said she had absolutely no interest in voting. Whilst she said she always voted normally, she said she would not be voting today as she did not believe in the legitimacy of the vote nor was she pro-Catalan independence. Chatting to a lady who was waiting to vote in Barceloneta, her feeling was that the pro-remain people who had attended a march yesterday, were largely from other areas and not ‘true’ Catalans. And yet, Maria would call herself a ‘true’ Catalan. Such divisions are rife in Catalonia.

In the early afternoon there was a march by the pro-remainers, those who favour staying with Spain. They marched through Barcelona, accompanied by the National police. Again, whilst fairly boisterous, singing songs such as ‘Viva España’, I witnessed no violence from them nor the pro-separatist Catalans walking past. Much of the Born and Barceloneta, two central districts of Barcelona, remained calm and eerily quiet apart from the constant hum of the helicopters overhead; a sound which has become something of Barcelona’s soundtrack in the past month.

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However, I have subsequently seen numerous pieces of footage on Facebook, posted by friends and others, which show the brutality so many had feared. Unarmed, defenceless citizens thrown down the stairs, dragged out by their hair, jumped upon and kicked by Guardia Civil officers, in full riot gear, and all just for sitting in peaceful protest. Similarly, those protecting schools by forming human walls to protect the polling stations, were attacked savagely with batons, despite the protestors holding their arms up in peace.

When the forces of law and order hit and attack defenceless citizens, they lose the general population’s respect and trust. Respect and trust in the police is vital to a well-functioning democracy. It was notable throughout the day that the Mossos were in evidence throughout the city, but did not, as far as I have seen, lay a hand on a protestor, nor respond as the National police did. It is very clear that Spain and Catalonia are divided both from each other and within. This referendum, at the very least, has brought the issue of Catalan independence, to the world’s attention, which was perhaps partly the point. Given how many ballot boxes were seized, how many weren’t able to vote and perhaps, as is the case with my neighbour, a boycott of the vote, it seems unlikely that the Catalan parliament can call for independence from Spain in a few days, as Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan President, had said he would do, were the result to be a ‘sí’.

Tonight, FC Barca’s football match is being played behind closed doors, to prevent any outbreak of violence. And to keep up with the football analogy, it feels that even if the ‘sí’ camp ‘wins’, it will feel like a goal which is disallowed by the referee. Given that the referee is perceived as being biased too, it would seem that no side is going to ‘win’. With tempers flaring both on and off the pitch, perhaps all should refrain from playing the game until at the very least, everyone has agreed upon the rules.

A Catalan Calamity?

Photo Blog Independence

 

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.

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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.

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Stuck between a Brexit and a Cata(lan)strophe

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Outside my flat the bells of Santa Maria del Mar have just tolled, a helicopter hums above and below there is the din of the square: people’s laughter and cups clanking on the metal tables. The sound of the helicopter has become almost as habitual as the ringing of the bells since not only the Barcelona attacks, but in the lead up to the referendum on 1st October. Last night the bells were drowned out by the sound of pots and pans being banged throughout the city, a ‘cacerolazo’ in support of the referendum and as a gesture of defiance towards the Madrid government.

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September is always a particularly patriotic month for the locals, as it is the month during which Catalans commemorate the fall of Hapsburg-supporting-Barcelona to Bourbon-supporting -Spain on 11th September, 1714; incidentally those same Bourbons who today are still Spain’s royal family. It is also the month where they celebrate ‘La Mercè’, the city’s patron saint. These events provide a platform for the ‘Leave Spain’ voters who turn out in their droves, or rather, in their fluorescent green t-shirts emblazoned with the word ‘Sí’ translated into ‘oui’, ‘yes’ and ‘ja’ among myriad other languages, to ensure that all understand the message being conveyed. At such events the mood tends to be upbeat, something helped by the numerous ‘Estrella’ beers being downed and food bandied about. One thing common to all Spaniards is their ability to turn any event into a quasi fiesta.

 

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Fear of Flying

 

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We all know the acronym, FEAR, False Expectation (or Evidence) Appearing Real. In order to achieve anything in life we have to be brave. I encounter a lot of fear among the people I take travelling which therefore makes their decision to come on trips braver still. In reality the world is safer now than it has ever been before. However, whilst crime has been declining, our perception of crime has been increasing courtesy of the internet, 24-hour streaming news and social media. As I often point out to the people I take on tour however, the reason something is in the news is because it is something different to the norm and therefore unlikely to happen to them.

The current American election and potential UK exit, the so-called ‘Brexit’, from the European Union have something in common, other than being largely about two men whose egos and ambition are matched only in size with their improbably sized mops of hair; fear. The reason many are dashing for the exit in the UK is fear: fear of being overrun with migrants; fear of being told what to do by the Germans, or god forbid, the French. On the campaign to stay side, the politics of fear are being employed to suggest all kinds of doomsday scenarios should Britain leave. Over the pond Americans are voting for Trump because he plays upon their fears over immigration and worries about future hypothetical terrorist attacks. Never mind that Americans are more likely to die from being shot by each other than in a terrorist attack perpetrated by ‘outsiders’. Never mind that in the UK, migrants constitute a small percentage of the population and largely contribute rather than take out of the system. The false reality is the one we virtually inhabit and given that we spend more and more of our time online it is the one which appears the most real.

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