In Catalonia, 2 intractable sides battle for hearts and minds: Margaret Evans

In Catalonia, 2 intractable sides battle for hearts and minds: Margaret Evans
From CBC - October 12, 2017

"The nationalists are the problem," the man wrapped in a Spanish flag said with no hint of irony. "You have to tell the truth about what's happening here!"

He had just marched through the centre of Barcelona on Sunday along with hundreds of thousands of other flag-waving demonstrators chanting "Catalonia is Spain, Spain is Catalonia."

It was just a week after Catalonia's separatist leaders staged an independence referendum rejected by Spain as illegal and the first major demonstration by Catalonians who favour remaining in Spain.

If the man withthe flag is to be believed, that's because up until recently they have been too intimidatedby Catalonian separatists to voice their opinions, In other words, by "the nationalists."

He was happy to give his opinion, but not his name.Sharing thoughts on independence can get you into trouble, he said.

Maria Dolores had no such concerns.She too was draped in a Spanish flag. Born in 1957, she said the Catalonian leadership has gone too far.

And she dismissed Catalonia's claim to nationhood, even though she herself was born and raised in Barcelona."They have created a complete fantasy about their nation," she said."About their history, about their reality which is not at all the truth."

For their part, many in the separatist camp tend to dismiss unionists as "fascists," an insult dating back to the days of FranciscoFranco's dictatorship between 1939 and 1975, a time many pro-independence Catalonians still associate with Madrid, the nation's capital.

They say they are the ones suffering intimidation after the Spanish government sent in thousands of extra national police and the Civil Guard to try to stop the referendum, arresting politicians and confiscating ballot boxes.

'We have two clusters, very homogenous.' Guillem Lopez Casasnovas

So goes the battle for hearts and minds in Catalonia.Two intractable sides with seemingly very little movement between their positions.

"We have two clusters, very homogenous each of them," saidGuillem Lopez Casasnovas, an economist and former member of the board of governors of the Bank of Spain, a few days after the unity march.

It was also the night afterCatalonian President Carles Puigdemont made his famous suspended declaration of independencealmost an un-declaration.

"Unionist and independentist. They are very homogenous internally, but externally they do not talk to each other."

One of the oldest Catalonian traditions isthe castell,a human tower.

A wide base is formed in a circle, with people standing layered against each other like the leaves of an artichoke: heads down, hands and arms intertwined and supporting the next layer above, pushing up against the backs of their legs. Barefootclimbers pull themselves up ever higher, children eventually scrabbling up the outside to reach the top.

When the last child forms the pinnacle, he or she is supposed to hold up fourfingers, each one representing a stripe on the Catalonian flag.

Or so the mythology goes. At a recent Sunday festival in the Barcelona neighbourhood of Sarria the towers were too high for bystandersto get a good look.

Catalonian determination

The kids only remain up for a second before sliding back down to the ground as if they were going down a fire pole.It's as good a metaphor for nation building and Catalonian determination as you will find.

The Catalan language and culture were suppressed during the Franco years, along with those from other parts of Spain including the Basque country and Galicia.Even children's nameshad to be Castilian or Spanish.

That all started to change with the end of the dictatorship, and Catalonia today enjoys a degree of autonomy within Spain.Catalan is taught in schools and has replaced or joined Spanish names on street signs.

But for many Catalonians there remains a deep sense of grievance, the feeling that Madrid still does not respect them or see them as equals.

The fact that Catalonians put more into the national coffers than they feel they get back ininvestment does not help.

"Civil servants come from other regions of Spain [to work here] but not knowing Catalan," Nuria Benetez offered as an example.She manages one of the human tower groups taking part in thefestival.

"Not knowing anything, so we cannot use Catalan when coming to the justice or sometimes to the health system."

"When you come [to court] in German you have a translator but when you come in Catalan you are asked to change your language, your mother language, to another one. We should at least have the same rights as foreigners!"

And when the Spanish government refuses to allow Catalonians a vote on their own destiny, it tends to rankle.

"I am not in favour of one flag or another flag," said Sarria municipal worker Joan Manel."For me the important thing is that people could vote to decide what they want."

'It has no sense'

Suspending independence


Continue reading at CBC »