Last week I had a couple of friends from Europe asking me what was going on “again” in Catalonia because, so I have decided to devote this week’s post to the fight that has been going on in my country for centuries. I am not going to repeat what I said about Catalan history. Let me only point out that Catalonia was a nation long before the different crowns in Spain really knew they might one day be unified. To make things clear: on the 6th of June 1114 Ramon Berenguer III disembarked in Ibiza with 75,000 men and 900 horses to conquer back the island which was under Saracen control. It was round that time that Catalonia and Pisa, two very powerful territories in the Mediterranean, joined. In the Pisa chronicles of that time one can already read the name “Catalonia” and “Catalans” as there was already a clearly defined territory with its citizens that felt part of a nation back then. That was the period when Catalonia had a huge influence in the Mediterranean area. Unfortunately, these times go hand in hand with the darkest side of our history that we cannot hide easily cause it has coined some expressions in several countries in the world. For example, in Bulgaria if someone is cruel and capable of torturing another person he is called “son of a Catalan”. In Greece, if you want to curse someone you say “may Catalan revenge fall upon you” and in the Parnassos region, if one person gets out of the frying pan into the fire one says “ escaping from the Turks to fall into the Catalans”. Well, it seems our beginnings as a nation were covered with some blood.
Nevertheless, Catalans excelled at trade in the Middle Ages and when trade failed, industry flourished here. As a country Catalonia was more than prosperous till we lost the Succession War and The King Felipe V got to the Spanish throne. In 1714 the repression of the Catalan nation started, and it lasted till Franco’s death in 1975. Then, as you might know, Spain began a process to become a democracy which has not by far yet been completed as the recent event show.
Let’s say the situation in Catalonia was stable till 2008. Bancs had to be rescued with public money and the government forced autonomic regions to keep very tight budgets to face the recession. But the budgets were not equally tight in all regions. Catalonia was literally squeezed financially much more than other parts of Spain. Civil servants in Catalonia had to endure a very severe salary cut that lasted for years. The restricted government budget affected basic aspects of life. At the same time, the middle classes lost purchase power and many people from the working classes reached the poverty level. People cued at food banks those early days of the crisis here in Catalonia.
Exactly at that time Catalonia, which was enduring the consequences of the crisis, took the Spanish government to the Constitutional Court cause it owed— and stills owes— Catalonia the refund of the 0,7 % of the PIT – Personal income Tax— that our country needed to be able to pay for basic things for citizens. The outcome was that The Constitutional Court passed a sentence and ordered the Spanish government to refund the 0,7% to Catalonia. But the government didn’t do it. It never gave the money back. From 2012 to 2017 there have been 25 sentences that the Constitutional Court has passed, and the Spanish government has not executed any of them. Some of these mentioned in the video are the 177/2012 for the PIT, the 226/2012, the 21/2013, the 70/2013, the 154/2013, the 33/2014 and the 9/2017. All of them are sentences referring the 0,7% that the Spanish government must refund. But it seems the Spanish government does not have to obey the law, does it?
By the way, the man of the video is one of the Catalan politicians in prison and convicted for supporting the referendum of the 1st of October 2007. His name is Jordi Turull.
But let’s focus on the matter. Even before the crisis, the Catalan government had asked Spain to reconsider its status of autonomy since Catalonia wanted more freedom to rule itself. However, the result of this petition was a rejection from the Spanish government to negotiate anything.
Only a couple of years afterwards the crisis started, and the central government forced Catalonia to give such an amount of money that the population had to endure financial hardships. At the same time, the Spanish government was infringing the law by not obeying the Constitutional Court and simply forgetting to execute the sentence that urged it to give Catalonia back the money that it owed us.
As a nation and economic engine of the country we— because I am now talking about the way I felt back then and now— Catalans felt exploited and laughed at. Which is why the old dream of being independent from the oppressor was back in our minds and most importantly, in the minds of Catalan politicians.
Yet, in order to be independent you needed to know what percentage of the population really wanted to be “a separate state from Spain”. Catalonia has always had ties with the rest of the country because we have welcome immigrants from other parts of Spain to work here when we were short of labour force. They feel Spanish and Catalan at the same time. Therefore, the Catalan government wanted everyone to vote in a referendum. The problem is that it is forbidden to hold a referendum to decide on whether a part of Spain wants to be independent or not.
The negotiations with the Spanish government were impossible. Spain refused to have a referendum about independence.
It seems very logical to me that a democratic country should be able to hold referendums, otherwise it cannot be called democratic. The rejection of the Spanish government made us Catalans want to hold the referendum even more. For this reason, the Catalan government planned it carefully and it was held, illegally according to Spanish law, on the 1st of October 2017. I guess I don’t have to tell you to look at the videos about police violence against citizens voting, cause I am sure if you are reading the blog it’s because you are interested in the topic and you have seen them.
I am not sure what I am most ashamed of. If about the police beating harmless citizens or about their incapability to find the ballot boxes hidden in the most obvious places. We all have evidence of people in towns strolling peacefully in the streets while angry policemen search for the ballot boxes hidden in the crowns of the trees. It’s so ridiculous to think that policemen will be able to prevent people from voting by taking with violence some ballot boxes from some places!
But it is not only that. In the past years it has been in the spotlight here that some big fish in the country, some politicians or CEOs of big companies, had paid for University degrees that they have never completed. Corruption scandals at all levels were feeding people’s anger. Moreover, we had to face the scandals of a Royal Family that lives a luxury life at the expenses of our taxes in Spain. It’s outrageous to be paying the former King the huge amount of money he gets to lead a lavish life and have fun with his mistresses. It is such a waste of economical resources and dignity for a nation that we all in Catalonia wonder how people in other parts of Spain don’t stand up against the Monarchy or the immense corruption in the country.
But instead of that, it has been easier to keep citizens’ minds in the rest of Spain busy with our independence. If there is one big problem, you try to highlight another and if people are not clever enough, they won’t feel manipulated.
Which is why the focus is not on corruption in the country but on us and our referendum. It was against the Constitution, it’s true. But you can always make amendments to the holy Constitution. Otherwise women would have never voted anywhere probably and interracial marriage would still be forbidden. Law must adapt to democracy and justice and not the other way around.
Yet, as it seems, the referendum was such a crime that our Catalan politicians had to be in prison. They have been there till their trial has been celebrated and the sentence was passed last Wednesday. A completely unfair one. The least severe sentence was 9 years of prison and the most severe one 14.
If we take into account that it has been made public that some members of the Royal Family in Spain have stolen money and they have not even faced a trial, is it any wonder that Catalans went to the streets to raise their voice against the Spanish Government on Wednesday?
There is no way back now I tell you.
It would have been so much easier to make the referendum legal and then —of that I am nearly sure— maybe there would have only been a 49 % in favour and a 51% against independence. The problem would have not even been there. But Spain wanted it its way. The Spanish government had to refuse democratic means.
It would have also been easier to set our political politicians free when the government changed but then again, so much hatred has been instilled in the minds of Spanish citizens that it was not possible to set our Catalan politicians free and win elections. And once more, Spain had an opportunity for redemption with the sentence but instead of being mild it acted in revenge passing an unfair an undemocratic sentence that shows that politics and justice go hand in hand in this undemocratic corrupt country called Spain.
To be quite honest I find this is so terrible that I could cry for hours about it. It drives me crazy to see that Spain could have kept together if there had been signs of mercy on Spain’s side. But if you exploit and scorn a nation that is one of the most powerful economic engines in the country, then the scheme can backfire and this is what has happened here.
I truly believe Catalans are peaceful people, but we are also stubborn. We have gone through to many hardships and repression to knell once again. The mistreatment from the Spanish government has hardened our hearts and it has made our rage grow. I think we Catalans have given Spain enough chances. The sentence last week was a sign of fear from Spain.
Not in vain the words of our former Catalan president murdered in 1940 by the Spanish government are engraved in our Catalan minds: “Tornarem a sofrir, tornarem a lluitar, tornarem a vèncer” which translates with “we will suffer again, we will fight again, we will win again. And that is what we are doing now: fight!