Even Catalonians have been struggling to follow the events that have unfolded throughout the region this week.
The Spanish government’s refusal to enter into talks with Catalonia and the Catalonian government’s refusal to break their vow of independence had left the country in a stalemate, which was broken in a flurry of activity which followed yet more independence strikes on Thursday 26th October.
The following day, the Catalan government issued a statement of independence and supporters rushed to the streets, celebrating after a long week of what seemed like meaningless or confusing statements from the Catalonian government. Jubilant revellers filled the square in front of the Town Hall, Catalonian flags tied round their shoulders and many chanted ‘Catalonians, we get things done’. There was a real sense of achievement and pride. It seemed as if the uncertainty had come to an end and the change that many had wanted and repeatedly campaigned for had really happened.
In contrast, Spanish politicians labelled the actions of the Catalans as irresponsible. Many have previously expressed the opinion that Catalonia belongs to Spain, and by attempting to separate themselves, the Catalonian government is stealing from the Spanish people.
However, it wasn’t long until the tide turned. By Sunday afternoon, the flags draped around the protesters shoulders had changed to Spanish ones and those hailed as heroes only two days before, were now labelled traitors. The Spanish government reacted to Catalonia’s independence declaration with as much resolve or bullheadedness as they had promised. They dissolved the Catalonian government, sacked the Catalan Prime Minister, Carles Puigdemont, and removed Josep Lluis Trapero, the head of the Mossos d’Esquadra (Barcelona’s respected regional police force). In the space of a weekend, Barcelona had gone from independent state, to one completely lacking a regional government. Snap elections have been called for 21st December to select a new regional government, but for now, the region remains under national control.
In Barcelona, ‘Passeig de Gracia’ was full of supporters of Spanish-Catalonian unity, many of them carrying Spanish, EU or Spanish and Catalonian flags. There was a marked change in atmosphere towards those policing the streets. The Mossos, who had been treated with respect and hailed as heroes for defending the people from the National Police on the day of the referendum, were jeered at by crowds. Large groups of pro-unity protesters blocked the passage of police vans. One man vehemently shouted ‘Traidores’ (‘traitors’), before looking down to check on his young son. Every time a national police helicopter flew above the crowd cheers rose and the cry ‘You are our police’ rang out.
Across the city normality reigns. While protests have become almost routine here, businesses still run and people still go to work. Even on the 3rd October, when huge crowds of pro-independence supporters flooded the streets, images of which were broadcast by news channels all across Europe, many businesses remained open. While it may have seemed to the outsider that Barcelona had completely shut down, some offices merely pulled down their shutters, concealing the workers inside. Off ‘Las Ramblas’, men stood ready to pull down shutters to restaurants the moment the crowd turned down their street. Civilians at Court Ingles and other shops were told they must remain in the shop until the security guards decided to open the doors again.
Now it seems as if Catalonian independence is destined to remain a dream. Puigdemont on Tuesday 31st October declared he will respect the results of the snap election in December and is not attempting to evade punishment from the National government. Some are clearly still unhappy with the events of the weekend; on one building on the corner of ‘La Rambla de Catalunya’ a banner hung, which read: ‘Europe shame on you’. Others feel that the Spanish government has behaved a little inflexibly in their treatment of the so called ‘traitors’. After the violence at the polling stations on the day of the referendum, the Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy insisted that he had merely followed Spanish law. However, violence seemed avoidable, especially considering polls showed that the majority of Catalonians were not actually intending to vote for independence.
On Sunday afternoon, a ‘Castellers’ display in Barcelona, which is usually hailed as symbolic of Catalan strength and unity, collapsed. No-one appeared to be seriously injured and whilst the practice is not without dangers and tragic incidents do occur, witnessing it, one couldn’t help feeling it was horribly ironic given the political situation Catalonia now finds itself in.