During the last week of September, my friend Sammy and I spent a few days in Barcelona. I had heard some news about Cataluña; little did I know we'd be there a few days before it happened. in As a person, maybe-5th-or-6th generation in my family, born 'n' raised in the United States, it is hard to understand the political context of the independence referendum of Cataluña, one of the most prominent economic region in Spain. Here are some of my reflections on it. But first: some background!
Yes, the referendum held on October 1st was illegal, based on the Spanish Constitution of 1978. That document democratized Spain after the death of Francisco Franco, the Nazi collaborator and facsist MF who had tortured and terrorized Spain since 1933, and repressed Cataluña language and culture. So, the first democratic constitution of a nation state since that dictatorship? Important AF.
That is, it's important if you believe in the democracy--we all know that democracy only works if people believe it will work. A functional democracy is only possible if all of the states within the nation are invested in it. But Spain is intensely politically divided by region: the Basque country and Cataluña (or Catalonia in English) are both semi-autonomous and have their own distinct language. There is much regional pride throughout Spain, which is ecologically and economically as diverse as California. Yet my general take is that people are much more skeptical about a national pride.
Cataluña has been an independent republic before, and is currently semi-autonomous. The fight for independence, as well as the regional pride, culture, and languge, has a loooong history.
Ok, back to the referendum. A few things:
The fact that the referendum was technically illegal made the public discussion about it super weird to me:: there was a massive wave of “¡SÍ!” propaganda everywhere in Barcelona, so many Cataluña flags and “Sí!” flags flying from balconies. We woke up one morning to massive roars of a crowd. We came out of our apartment to a massive student march from the University of Barcelona. It was amazing!
...And there was ZERO “NO” discussion. There was only a #vote hashtag (in Catalán, #votarem)... there was no public #voteNO hashtag! No one was flying a Spanish flag...kinda seemed like a douchebag move, but YES, basically all of the local reporting I read/watched was so anti-referendum. That being said, hearing zero 'no' voices, out on the streets, was strange to me because in the US a public debate is expected. Unless you were already politically vocal, people against the referendum, or against independence, just stayed quiet, because, well, it was illegal.
There's also how the voting actually happened. In a normal election, voting cards are mailed to people's houses and they vote that way. In the referendum, you had to show up at a polling place and cast your vote (the referendum cards were red, by the way, which seemed to me like a super intense choice. Can you chose a more emotionally charged color? #no.) Violence went down at polling places due to the POLICE (which I'm not even gunna go there because ACAB and the police as a militarized state presence is a whole 'nother can o worms.). But, even if you wanted to vote 'no', going to a polling place didn't seem safe or accessible to some folks.
OK. So As a TOTAL OUTSIDER it really felt like this vote wasn't to see whether or not the region of Cataluña wanted to become independent or not, it was for Cataluña to become an independent republic. But you know what, you can't coerce your neighbors into becoming a state with you. You can't create a new nation democratically if most of the people in that country don't even want to vote. Hm. Once the votes were cast, maybe that is what happened? → 92% of the votes cast said YES! To becoming an independent republic. So there's a majority! But also really important! Only 43% of registered voters cast a vote! We all know that 92% of 43% means less than half. So, how many Cataluñians do you need to become an independent state? Do the referendum leaders, and Catalán leader Carles Puigdemont, only need less than half?! If so, that's problematic AF.
A couple reasons why so few people voted on such an important event? One thing to note is that Cataluña has one of the biggest economies in Spain; Barcelona has a huge tourist industry. Which also means that lots of people from all over Spain now live and work there. So, my hunch is that people born 'n' raised in Cataluña have a suuuuuper different political viewpoint about regional independence than those who moved there for work! Like, if I moved to Hawaii to take tourists on helicopter rides, I might be like, “No, we should stay with the USA! That's a big part of my income!” But… *shrug* (“you're missing the point, bra.”).
My last note: The vote was pushed forward by 'radical nationalists', as described by one person I talked to (who wasn't voting). This is hard for me to understand from the perspective of the United States. Radical nationalism *here in the US* generally translates to an “America first,” anti-immigrant, white supremecist values. No thanks! But a lot of the students who were marching the day before this tractor motorcade were also marching for women's rights and against capitalism & racism. So… this doesn't really add up. I wish I could have talked with some of the students marching… but I don't speak Catalán! Ha. Maybe next time.
All of that being said, I believe that I do support the independence of Cataluña. I do not support colonialism and, for example, if the movements for independence for Hawaii, for example, or Puerto Rico, HELL YES I would #votarem! For me, being in Barcelona during this time was a really amazing experience and taught me a lot about the current state of democracy. Cataluñians are fighting for their own democracy, which necessarily has to happen outside of the current democratic process. It's messy and perhaps not super functional in itself (partly because of the political repression of the federal government, and the police on its side!). The messiness and instability scares me—how are we to trust the leadership will stay true to the political message, when history shows that that rarely happens? Yesterday, the Catalán leader Carles Puigdemont asked the Spanish government for more time to announce the decision of his administration about if they will follow through with the referendum decision. Also yesterday, some top Cataluñian leaders were arrested, others barred from leaving the country… We will see what happens! Cataluña's independence would be a big blow to the country's government… yet at the same time would give hope and fuerza to the independence movements across Spain, and across the world… WHEW! So I'll be watching the news! Won't you?
Found out some info here: