Lament for Catalonia

Spain is my emotional home–the intensity, the passion, the frankness, the harsh shadows and brilliant lights–echo my own, not always easy character. I have spent many months there, each time becoming more enamoured. So when I witness scenes of utter chaos and police violence towards citizens of Barcelona going about the democratic business of voting in a referendum, my heart sinks while the screams of people getting beaten up and dragged off to jail by the Guardia Civil ring in my ears. So do the hypocritical pronouncements of the Spanish government in Madrid, who claim that the violence is not their fault, oh no, it’s the fault of the people in Barcelona for assuming that they have democratic rights.

I had expected to be writing about the fascist flu being reincarnated in the US; instead, I am watching scenes worthy of Franco’s thugs during the thirties. What makes all this so strange is that the Madrid government has known about the coming referendum on whether or not Catalonia wants to be a separate state, for years. They did nothing to stop the movement, largely coming from the intelligentsia and the upwardly mobile, well-off middle class in the wealthiest region of Spain. Some seven million people live there and most are fluently bilingual in Spanish and Catalan. If you walk the streets in Barcelona, all street signs have two names, and I actually took part in a free language class to learn some basic Catalan. The movement is about the language and rich traditions of Catalonia, as well as about self-determination. It mirrors, in many ways, the Canadian experience with the Quebecois, who demanded, and got, a referendum that kept them inside Canada by a tiny margin. Yes, this is a precarious matter, but I suspect that Madrid is furious because Catalonia is the richest, most diverse and fastest growing region in Spain. Losing it would have an immediate and negative effect on the already strained coffers of the Spanish government. Making the referendum illegal and then following up with police brutality is a sure sign that they are feeling quite desperate. But in so doing, they are making a difficult situation much worse.

Catalonia now has no option but to take a much harder stance than they did before all this happened. Neither side will back down, and the fact that none other than Angela Merkel, who has a real knack for hypocrisy (she keeps pretending that her policy of open borders towards migrants has not changed, when in fact, she slammed the borders shut as soon as it became apparent that she would lose her party’s support if she did not),  shows how regressive and oppressive the response of Madrid is.

Franco’s ghost is marching with the police in the streets of Barcelona, but the screams of the people are being heard across the globe. Who is on the side of fascism now? Merkel is. Let’s see who else follows her despicable lead.

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