Catalonian referendum in Amsterdam’s ‘Roest’

By Felix Kostersitz

Roest. A bar in the east of the Dutch capital Amsterdam. It is Wednesday evening. The artificial beach in the outside area of the bar is closed. It is already cold and the sand next to the canals is damped. The first thing which catches one’s eyes inside the location is the bar, which is in the middle of the room. The bar is surrounded by ten to fifteen people, waiting for their drinks. The rest of the room is furnished with tables and bar stools. It is 20:30. The voices of the crowd are almost drowned by the music which plays in the background. Sometimes people raise their glasses and say “Cheers!” or glasses chink. A few pictures here, some posters there. A calm evening in the city of Amsterdam.

On the table in the corner of the bar, there is a Spanish group talking in their mother tongue. Three boys and two girls drinking their cervezas. Rarely someone could understand words like ‘Barcelona’ or ‘Catalonia’. They are all around 25 years old. They look like a group of exchange students but in fact they do not look Spanish.

“Did you hear about the riots in Barcelona?”, asked one of the boys. The group is discussing about the referendum regarding the independence of Catalonia, which took place one weekend ago. Catalonia is an autonomic region in the north-east of Spain which wants to be an independent state itself. Therefore Catalonia voted unofficially for the independence of the region on last Sunday. 5,3 million people were entitled to vote, around 40 percent did it in fact. 90% of them are convinced that Catalonia should be independent from Spain. So does the group of Spanish students in the bar. Young and well educated people would benefit from the independence in the future. But not at any price.

“It’s good that we can vote for our independence in fact. And you can see that the majority supports the idea. But a referendum, which is not taken seriously by the government and the justice, and a referendum on which they take military action against it – that’s what we are said about.”, says a redheaded girl and takes a sip of her beer. Her friends nod, agree and take also a sip of their beer. After a short time of silence the smallest of the group strikes his hand on the table and asks what the referendum would be for, if the police proceed against their own fellow countrymen just to avoid a referendum.

The group seems concerned about the current situation in their home country. They discuss the issue for a long time. One of them downs his beer, leaves the table and comes back two minutes later with a new pitcher. The discussion is not over yet. But in fact all of them have the same opinion about it: they would favour the independence, but they are afraid respectively concerned about the violence as well. For the group, the riots and all the injured people in Catalonia weigh much more than the referendum itself. They care more about the people. Rubber bullets and violence from the police against their fellow citizens and friends make them doubt about the independence.

The dim, Dutch bar Roest is around 1,500 kilometres away from Barcelona and Catalonia. The beach in front of the bar is barely reminiscent of the city of the Ramblas. It is Wednesday evening and most people in the bar are about to leave. However, also here, at the Roest in the east of Amsterdam, the referendum and its effects in Barcelona concern young Spanish people. It seems to be not only a local issue, which is not taken seriously by the Spanish government in Madrid. It bothers the people. It bothers the youth.

The group of Spanish people leaves the bar around midnight. They all catch a last glimpse on their table in the corner of the room whether they forgot something or not. They did not. One of the two girls lights up a cigarette, takes a puff and says: “To be honest, I’m happy that we’re now in Amsterdam and haven’t been in Barcelona on Sunday.”