Eight simple questions about the complicated situation in Catalonia

People have taken to the streets of Barcelona, after their elected leaders are sentenced to prison for up to 13 years. The protests started off peaceful, but the atmosphere is getting increasingly tense and the protests more violent. Alba Fernández (20) is from Llobregat, Catalonia, and studies political sciences in Barcelona. We asked for her opinion on the current situation in Catalonia. 

Text and photo by Iraide Ibarrondo

When and why did it all start?

Well, I would say that the ‘independentist ideology’ is quite new. In my opinion, it all started around 2004-2006, when Catalonia wanted to renovate some statutes. For that, they needed the permission of the Spanish government. They sent their proposal in a pacific and rational way and got rejected. The Spanish government sent their proposal for the statute  to the Generalitat (the Catalonian government) and it was even worse than the original one. That’s where the frictions between the Generalitat and the Spanish government started.

So it started because of money?

Absolutely. Depending on the auto government level and statutes each autonomous community has, it has a different way to tribute money to the central government. The Basque Country, as an example, pay the Spanish government some money, but they are able to administer and invest the money the way they want. In Catalonia, we can’t do that. We wanted to be able to administer our own money. 

Alba Fernández (20) from Llobregat.

If it’s all about money, when did the Catalan identity pop up ? 

You have to imagine the political parties as companies and that their objective is to stay in the government. The Catalan political parties Junts per Cat (It’s Puigdemont’s party. An independentist right coalition) and Esquerra Republicana (an independentist left party) saw that they needed something that made them different from the other Spanish political parties. They needed something that differenced them from the others to attract the vote of the Catalans, so they started to enforce the national identity. In the Catalan society, they created the urge to feel a national and cultural identity that wasn’t the Spanish. 

How do you do that ?

Spain is a state with a lot of different nationalities. A nation is a group of people with the same ethnic origin that share cultural, historical and religious similarities. They have the feeling of belonging to the same community. Having a different language is also helpful when creating or enforcing a nationality. It’s all in the little things. For example, when I was a child, I used to watch TV cartoons and clowns in Catalan. My childhood memories or icons are different from the people in Spain. It’s something, a detail that makes the difference. 

A few years ago, you could feel Spanish and Catalan at the same time and there was no problem with that. Now, it looks like both feelings are incompatible, you have to choose one or another. Also, the denial from Spain to recognize the Catalan identity has only enforced these differences. 

So, what’s happening right now?

The Catalans have arrived at a critical point where a solution has to be found right now. People are starting to feel desperate and that’s when the problems begin. They are tired of not getting the attention they need. They have tried every single democratic and non-violent way to reach their objectives and they haven’t been respected or taken into account. People have been jailed, arrested and hit. So what other option is left? The reason why they’re protesting now, is because their elected politicians will have to be in jail up to 13 years for organizing a democratic voting. In Spain there are people condemned for rape who will be in jail for less time. How can organizing a referendum be worse than raping someone?

You were talking about the illegality of the referendum. How can voting be illegal and how can you make it legal?

Nowadays, that’s quite impossible. First of all, you would have to make a reform in the constitution. In order to do so, you need the approval of the majority of the Spanish  parliament and senate. These two would never make a reform that could help an autonomous community reach independence. So by now, the referendum will continue to be illegal in juridic terms. 

What about the police abuse? 

The atmosphere in Barcelona is very tense. In many situations, the police have acted with too much violence. But even though the ‘independentist movement’ is peaceful in the marches, there are always people who are more radical or violent. So even if you haven’t done anything, police won’t be asking one by one, who was the one who threw a molotov cocktail or a stone. They will just go against all protestors without thinking twice. I’m not justifying it. But I don’t know what I would have done if I were in the government’s situation. 

What do you think the solution is?

Dialogue. In the end I believe that a referendum will have to be followed up. Also, the political prisoners and exiles need to be put into freedom. What happened with the political prisoners is shameful. I think that political parties have to start listening to each other and do something right now.