Paul Richard Huard
Last year, the region of Catalonia in Spain declared independence. The government in Madrid came down hard. What’s happened since then?
There are banners hanging below the windows of flats declaring: “The Spanish government killed our democracy, but it will never shut a Catalan’s mouth.” The estelada—the flag of Catalonian separatism—is everywhere. More often than not, Barcelonins walking on crowded streets such as La Rambla, the Avinguda Diagonal, or the Via Laietana wear a yellow ribbon on their clothing—a symbol not only of the independence movement but a quiet protest against the arrest of Catalan political leaders by Spanish authorities after last year’s October 1 independence referendum.
If the central government in Madrid thought the parliamentary elections they ordered for December 21 would somehow erase the spirit of independence in Spain’s second-largest city, it made one of the worst political misjudgments ever in recent Spanish history.
But in the days before and after the December election, growing doubts and fears deeply rooted in the decades-old conflict between Catalonia and Madrid emerged among voters, making them question whether they are for or against independence.
Deeply suspicious of a Spanish political system that they believe is racially and culturally biased against Catalonia, some Barcelonans question what Spain’s real agenda toward the Catalan people might be. There is skepticism about the value of the European Union to the ordinary person. And always—always—there are historical ghosts that still haunt Barcelona and all of Catalonia because of the legacy of a dead tyrant who still shapes Spanish politics to this day: Generalissimo Francisco Franco.
“There is more here at stake than the question of independence,” said Violetta Aquiar, an artist and photographer who voted for independence on October 1 and cast her vote for a pro-independence party during the December 21 parliamentary elections. “The Catalan movement questions the validity of the European Union—it hasn’t done a thing for us. It wants to bring to light the corruption of the Spanish government and their goal of silencing Catalans for good. It’s about a new society, not just a new country.”
When it comes to Catalonian independence, the results of the December 21 parliamentary elections are at best mixed.