Tensions have heightened in Barcelona as the planned date of the Catalonian independence referendum (1st October) has crept ever closer. In the last week the Catalan people have not been quiet in voicing their dissatisfaction with the Spanish Government’s actions.
Last weekend saw Barcelona filled with celebrations for ‘La Mercè’, a National Holiday, dedicated to the patron Saint of Barcelona. Celebrations started on Friday and continued through until Monday night. The city was alive with street parades, nightly firework displays, sea-front concerts and regional pride. However, there was an undertone to the celebrations. Two days previously, the Spanish government arrested 14 leading Catalan politicians, including the Secretary of Finance, for promoting a referendum for Catalan independence that the Spanish government say is both unconstitutional and illegal.
The Spanish government seems to show no sign of backing down; however, neither do the Catalan people. In the weeks before the arrests the importance of the upcoming referendum was tangible. On National Catalonia Day (11th September) hundreds of Catalans stepped out in fluorescent t-shirts, baring the word ‘Si’, advocating their intention to vote ‘Yes’ in the referendum. Large columns were erected in the centre of Barcelona advocating ‘Democracia’.
Every day more posters appear defending the value of democracy and the Catalan intention to vote. Graffiti appears comparing the Spanish government’s actions to that of the Spanish dictator Franco, who ruled Spain during much of the 20th century. Every night since the arrests, citizens have taken to the streets at 10pm, banging pans, railings and balconies, ‘making noise’ in order to give voice to their frustration at the government’s actions. This nightly protest takes place in neighbourhoods all across the city.
On Saturday evening, during a concert on Bogatel Beach, hundreds of spectators – lacking in pans – unanimously got out their keys and shook them, not forgetting the political tensions despite the celebrations going on around them. Indeed, it seemed the performers had not forgotten either. The headline act, popular Catalan band Txarango, allowed Catalan activists onto the stage during their set to deliver a rousing political message. Even the closing fireworks display at ‘Plaza Espanya’ was set to music, which included many western hits advocating the importance of freedom, independence and self-expression.
A week has now passed since the arrest of the 12 Catalan officials and with the date of the referendum creeping ever closer, demonstrations continue daily. Any time a crowd gathers, protest is not far behind.
The chants that rise above the rest, with ever-increasing frequency, are ‘We will vote’ and ‘The streets will always be ours’. Many Catalans are clearly ready to fight for their rights and will continue to protest in defence of their liberty. At the University of Barcelona, many classes have been cancelled due to safety concerns or simply a lack of students, with many young Catalonians joining the protests going on outside.
However, this is not a political issue for only the younger generation. Protests are formed of 20 year-olds, families and retirees alike. Maybe it’s this unity which has allowed the demonstrations to maintain an overall positive atmosphere. In general, the protests have centred around national pride rather than anger or violence. The city has not been shut down by demonstrations for independence, rather awakened by them.
Some political commentators worry that the actions of the Spanish government may push even more Catalans into the arms of hardcore separatists, and looking at leaflets scattered on the floor of a Barcelona metro station, which bare Nazi nationalist slogans, it’s hard not to wonder whether they’re right.
Speaking to one Spanish student, he tells me that he thinks Catalonia should have a chance to vote. He doesn’t care whether they leave or stay, but to him democracy means the ability to make that choice. He also criticises corruption within the leading Spanish political party (‘Partido Popular’) and a lack of regional autonomy within Spain for increasing desire for a referendum.
The Spanish government clearly doesn’t want to let go of Catalonia, but given the amount of people wandering the city adorned with the Catalan flag, it’d be fair to say that those who support independence are unwilling to give up without a fight.