Since October 2017 the world is looking at Spain and especially Catalonia. After the declaration of independence of the region, one event chases another. Catalonia is one of Spain’s wealthiest regions: the tourist hub of Barcelona and the manufacturing industry lead to a flourishing economy. But why do the Catalan people want independence from Spain? What happened on the day of the referendum and how is the situation now? For this interview I spoke to Laura, a 20 years old student, studying Biology at the University of Barcelona.
Laura didn’t vote in the referendum because it was illegal. She doesn’t argue for independence but rather stays neutral. In this interview, she will give us an insight look on what happened in her hometown Barcelona and how she thinks things are going to develop.
Do you think the Catalan government was right to let that referendum happen?
The president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, wanted the people to vote because he was the president, who was chosen to support people’s will, therefore he was right to open the vote for independence because the people wanted it. But the problem for me personally is, that I have never been really informed, no one gave me a paper or something, which clearly stated what the consequences are, if Catalonia becomes independent. What happens next? Are there disadvantages? What are the advantages? No one can really explain that to me.
What do you think about the people who voted for independence, are they right?
Of course there are plenty of things that are not working well for us in Spain. Catalonia is the wealthiest region and we pay more than anybody else to the Spanish government. This is just one example. There are people who have sufficient reasons to vote for independence, but there are a lot of them, who just hop on to the independence movement because it is cool. For example, if you go partying in a local party at the beach, sometimes the music stops for a moment and people just start cheering: “IN…INDE…INDEPENDENCIA” which means independence in Catalan. They raise the independency flag and everything. It’s kind of cool now to support independency and a lot of people can’t even explain to you why they vote for it, which is just stupid.
So it seems kind of hard today to be against the independence movement?
If you are not actively for independence, you don’t feel really comfortable there. People get very angry with you and tell you what you have to think, especially for me, someone neutral, this is very hard. I would say in general, that the majority of my generation is pro-independence. But of course, neutral people like me don’t put a pin on their clothes and raise their flag. Also, a lot of people from the older generation are afraid of the consequences of independence. They have been a part of Spain most of the time of their life and don’t want to change that. But there are a lot of people who live outside of Catalonia, who support the independency as well, because they understand the reasons behind it and think we have the right to vote as we live in a democracy. But still there are also people who discriminate against us in a very offensive way. “You stupid Catalans, stop going against the law” is one of the nicer comments on Twitter at the moment. The society is very divided at the moment, even my boyfriend and me are arguing a lot about it, as he is pro-independence and I am neutral. People put a label on you if you’re not pro-independence and that’s very unfair. Sometimes the discussions get very heated.
How did you experience the 1st of October, the day of voting?
On the first of October, the day of the voting, the atmosphere was incredible. You saw hundreds of people on the street, singing, being happy despite they now had to wait for almost three hours in a line until they reached the voting boxes. The plan of the government was to close the schools (where the voting procedure was supposed to take place), but the schools then did autumn parties for the children, as if it was regular lessons. Don’t get me wrong here, this is a quite common thing in Catalonia, children and parents go to school on weekends; they play games and have fun. But this time they did it just to avoid the schools to be closed. And it felt very strange for me to use children for that purpose, just to riot against the government. Even if it wasn’t a bad thing, the children had fun and so on, still I was angry about it. But this was just one of the smaller incidents that made me feel disappointed that day.
What else happened that disappointed you?
In Catalonia we have a different police force, not the same as the one who is working for the Spanish government, it’s called Mossos d’Esquadra. But during the voting week, the Spanish police was on our streets with Special Forces, they sent ships to the harbor of Barcelona as if we were in a war. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that. I really asked myself: “What is happening here?” On the voting day itself, the voting procedure started at 8 a.m. and already two hours before people stood in the streets, shouting, protesting, and cheering. Mossos d’Esquadra (the Catalan police) was supposed to take care of the safety of the voting procedure without using violence. So there was no way to get the voting boxes without putting a hand on people, so they just observed the situation and nothing happened, which was ok. But then the national police came with helmets and special equipment to some of the schools and tried to take the voting boxes away with force. Many people were injured, even if they didn’t do anything against the police. Moreover, the government shut down the online voting system, so the voting procedure had to be done on paper. The government made me really angry during these days. They always said: “There is no referendum in Catalonia”, over and over again, but then they send Special Forces to take the voting boxes and hit people. For me, it would have been a much more understandable solution to let them vote and then just don’t take any consequences, as it was illegal anyway. Also, I saw when the national police left Madrid, some people stood there with Spanish flags and shouted “A por ellos!” which means like “Let’s go and get them.” This was so disrespectful and shocking. Usually you use this chant when you’re in a football game because you want to win. Also the national police recorded themselves in the bus on their way to Catalonia, singing this song and discriminating against Catalan people, there are plenty of videos on YouTube.
I can barely imagine the situation. But what do you think will happen next, in your opinion?
The situation has calmed down a little bit. Catalonia wants to speak with the state to change things and find a legal way to implement a referendum, but we all know that there’s no legal way to do that and the government is not open to talk about it. So I don’t really see any outcome in this situation. I just hope that the situation is going to calm down.
How do the Catalan people see the imprisonment of the Catalan politicians and especially Carles Puigdemont?
Well for some of them it’s not understandable that the Belgian government says that they should not be imprisoned but the Spanish government says they should be imprisoned. It seems like the Spanish government just wants to get rid of them. So many people say that this is not a democracy because the Spanish state does what it wants. There are upcoming elections on the 21st of December 2017 here in Catalonia to form a new Catalan government and one can get the feeling that the Spanish government wants to imprison all the politicians that were in favor of the independence, so that something similar can’t happen again. A lot of people really lose their faith in the Spanish government.
But what do you think will happen once Catalonia declared independence, also concerning the European Union membership?
I think the general attitude of Catalonia towards the European Union is quite positive. There are a lot of Flyers saying “Catalonia – new state of the European Union”. Also there a lot of combined flags with the Catalan flag and the EU flag. But for me it’s clear, leaving Spain means leaving the European Union. The EU said we threatened European law with that independence vote, I don’t think they would let us join again. It’s obvious, I want to stay in the European Union, otherwise we’re kind of going back, I would feel lost. But for many other people it doesn’t matter. They don’t have a negative attitude towards the EU, but when the membership is what it takes to gain independence, they are willing to take it. Moreover, we have an economic problem when leaving Spain since a lot of companies have already left Catalonia because of the insecure situation. It’s similar to the situation in Great Britain because of the BREXIT. Another thing concerning especially us students is, that the state gives us money if we study at the university. So what is going to happen with that money, if Catalonia leaves Spain? What’s happening to all the students at the University of Barcelona? Do we need to pay back the money we already received? Will there be a similar system in the independent state of Catalonia or do they need that money to implement the new state? This is just a small example, but still it shows that there is no realistic plan what is going to happen, how this new state is going to be built and everything. And these questions are severe, you can’t just google that, like “Hey Google, how to build up a new state?” They don’t have a long-term plan. This is why I am very careful with the independence movement. In general, after the referendum, our nation has been seen worldwide, how it reacted to that situation, happy moments but also very bad moments. And I don’t know if this put Spain and Catalonia as part of it at the right angle. We will see what’s going to happen next, also concerning the upcoming elections.
Thank you so much Laura for this interview and giving us an insight view on the current situation in your region!