The world media reported recently that 80% of Catalans voted a strong YES! to the question of being independent. I saw the headline in numerous papers, which surprised me as I have always thought that those behind the broadsheets really put some research and effort into what they put onto the page. The articles did go on to say that this 80% was only a representation of 2.2 million, not the 6 or so that actually live here, but that is by the by. The grabbing was done. Many who simply read the headlines would be inclined to believe the majority of those who live here are solidly sliding a ‘yes’ into the ballot box.
It is impossible to avoid the independent sentiment when living in Barcelona. Even in English classes, arguments are quickly nipped in the bud, through answers of ‘Catalan’, when the students are asked their nationality, and ‘Catalonia’, when asked the name of their country. It takes a great effort for me to stay silent, and swiftly move on. I don’t disagree with their feelings and the strong passion they have, but technically it isn’t a country, as some others in the class have oftentimes felt stirred enough to remind us, demanding to see their classmate’s passport. You can see why I now ask questions relating to MY nationality, or a famous person, rather than bring up the dreaded Catalan/Spanish debate. In an English class, it’s just not necessary.
The streets are festooned with Catalan flags, plastic yellow bows (hang the environment), and proud proclamations of what the householders are voting. It does look pretty to see the red and yellow stripes, especially on a warm summer’s day. I have no problem in seeing people’s pride displayed. It’s just when voices start being misrepresented, not only by the papers abroad, but also by the Spanish government, that I begin to have a problem.
On the 9th of November, an unofficial referendum took place across the region. This referendum had been declared illegal by the Madrid-based government, and attempts to make it lawful were quashed again and again. You can see why Catalans feel nothing but fury towards the government, in what is supposed to be a democracy. They are ignored again and again by those who are supposed to listen and implement change for them. The money they pay in taxes is sent to other parts of the country which are less well off. This is expected, I hear you say – and I agree, but when it gets to the extent that those whose money is being taken are not those who receive, by a long run, then it becomes a problem. Children in other parts of Spain enjoy the advantage of having one computer per child in school. Here, this is certainly not the case. The money is being sent to help less well-off parts of the country, but it needs to be spent in a sensible manner, rather than in such a way that seems to only seek to rile the more wealthy regions. Catalans have held an annual protest on September 11th about these injustices and the right to decide their own future. This year (2014), 2 million people formed a ‘v’, visible from the air, to state their solidarity. In Madrid, and the rest of Spain, it was reported only 100,000 people turned out.
On the 9th of November, 2.2 million people voted in the illegal referendum. I was not one of them. I would very much like to vote. Why didn’t I? Because whilst I agree with the idea that Catalans are not heard and are largely trampled on by the government, I did not see the referendum as ever fairly representing the region. It was organised by a pro-independence institution, and held in schools, rather than officially recognised and government endorsed ballot posts. The weeks running up to the vote, there was no ‘no’ campaign, as there was in Scotland. I only ever saw propaganda relating to the ‘SI-SI’ (Yes-Yes) side. Thousands and thousands of euros were spent on this. I can’t back an election that is biased, nor one that uses money that could be spent on other things instead of producing a skewed vote. In other places, maybe the government would take heed of the millions that stated they wanted independence, but Rajoy (the president of Spain) is stubborn. He will not take the chance – therefore only making things worse. The more you keep people silent, the more they will want to say. Those on the ‘no’ side will change their mind.
I do not agree with those that say the 2.2 million are a representation of the people who would vote in the real election, should one ever be held. I believe the turnout would be as high as it was in Scotland. Some blamed apathy and laziness on the reason for some not ticking the ballot papers – but I doubt something so important, on the day of a genuine election, would be ignored. I want to hear both sides, see what both parties promise me, before I make up my mind. In my view, I feel as if someone followed me around shouting ‘YES’ in my ear for a month, flashing with red and yellow lights so I even thought of Catalonia when I closed my eyes. The arguments are so persuasive it even changed me from a ‘no’ voter for the first half of the vote (Quiere que Catalunya sea un estado? Would you like Catalonia to be a state?), to a ‘yes’.
Artur Mas, the Catalan leader, promises independence within 18 months if he is voted in with a majority in the next local elections. It all seems a bit fishy and tactical. Nowadays, it’s difficult to find such a thing as impartiality, especially in a place such as this, where ‘national’ sentiment is through the roof, to the point I have only seen with illiterate lager louts on St. George’s Day (I’d like to note that those who display such pride, however, here are not made of the same stuff). I can only hope that voices such as mine will be represented should the vote ever be given to the region. A good move to secure more ‘yes’ votes would be to eliminate immigrants from participation. In the meantime, I will continue keeping my head down and my mouth shut, in order not to be dragged into an argument I’ve had a thousand times…and look set never to win.