Maria Schnabel

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“My” Catalan Conflict


Many years ago my father, then a young idealist, fought to defend Catalonia against Franco’s forces in the last battles of the Spanish Civil War. He ended up exiled in a concentration camp in France where he endured inhuman, unspeakable living conditions.

When eventually he was allowed to return to Spain, he managed to lock away those experiences and resume his life as a jovial, friendly, hard-working individual and a loving family man.

Instead of displaying rancor against the ruling dictatorship that had forced him into exile, he chose to honor his love for all things Catalonia: its centuries-old traditions, culture and language.

He donned the barretina in special occasions with his fellow Catalan artist friends. (There he is, above, sporting the barretina in front of some of the beautiful ceramics he created in his spare time.)

He got around Franco’s ban on the use of Catalan in official matters and in schools by teaching me himself to read and write in Catalan. A whole generation of Catalans grew up speaking Catalan but not being able to write it. I was not one of them, thanks to my dad.

“My” Catalan Conflict

So, with that Catalan blood running through my veins, how do I feel about the so-called Catalan Conflict and the desire by a dominant minority of Catalans to declare independence from Spain?

Or, as someone I highly respect asked me, “Where’s your moral compass on this?”

Finding my moral compass on this has been a gut-wrenching test of my Catalan spirit.

Had I remained in Catalonia throughout my life, my moral compass most likely would have pointed toward independence.

But I have not. I’ve been away for more than 40 years and my perspective has changed.

The Conflict, in a Nutsell

I do understand the plight of Catalans: they make up 16% of Spain’s total population, contribute 20% of the country’s tax revenues, but only get 14% back for public expenditures. Not fair.

Numerous attempts to get the central government to level out that disparity have gone nowhere. Repeated requests for dialogue have gone unanswered.

That said, I am not convinced that the independents’ proposal of a total break from Spain makes sense.

I see a number of reasons. The first one is that there is no mathematical proof that the majority of Catalans are in favor of independence. (The Oct. 1 referendum brought in some 2 million votes, 90% of them in favor of independence, out of a 5.3 million registered voters.)

But what’s most troublesome to me in the proposal of independence is the economic consequence to a region that until now claimed to be Spain’s most prosperous.

It perplexes me that at a time when organizations look for opportunities to partner and merge strengths in order to succeed against growing competition, Catalonia’s independence proponents expect to succeed by doing just the opposite: becoming smaller, even at the expense of being ejected from the European Union and, in the process, losing the influence it enjoys being part of Spain.

What Would my Father have Said?

My father passed away many years ago, but I often ask myself what would he say if he were to live through the current conflict.

No one would love to see an independent Catalonia more than he.

Yet, I suspect that if he had a chance to analyze the current conflict he would be cautious and appeal to the “seny”– the common sense in which Catalans take so much pride.

The sense to realize that while independence is the dream, the current political situation is unlikely to deliver on the dream. The Catalan independence movement has failed to gain the backing of foreign governments or even the European Union. And since the Oct. 1 referendum  more than 500 companies have moved their head offices outside of Catalonia, in fear of what independence might bring.

My father would have also suspected that the Madrid’s intransigent government would never give an inch to the Catalans.

And he would have been right: The impasse now looks like is going to come to an end this Saturday when the Spain central government plans to strip Catalonia of some of the powers it had enjoyed as an autonomous region. That may cause long-lasting damaging consequences to the region.

Passion beyond Logic

Despite the danger ahead, pro-independence Catalans are passionate beyond logic and they seem willing to fight till the end, regardless of the consequences. It’s a passion that runs deep back to the times of Franco’s oppression which most of the current adult Catalan population, me included, experienced day in and day out.

Last week I shared my views in Catalonia with a friend who is passionate about independence.

“We’re in love,” he said. “It’s beyond logic. We’re in love with the idea of being independent,” he said, eyes welling up.








  • Pepi heras

    You have explained in a really clearly way the feelings of lots of people in Catalonia. Many Catalan citizens who love Catalonia over all watch with respect the result of one Independent Catalonia. Congratulations for your comments as usual very suitable. Kisses

    • Maria Schnabel

      Gracies, Pepi.Tu aixo ho has viscut igual que jo.

  • Erik Rostad

    Very interesting thoughts. Thank you for sharing. It really helps to hear a personal opinion amidst all of the conflicting news.

  • Kathy Van Buskirk

    As always, so smart. Interesting to read and understand a little more about what’s going on. Thanks for sharing. kvb

  • jordi Oltra

    Believe me, many of us, the Catalans who dream in a independent Catalonia we all know that it would be not easy, even if we arrive to be independent of Spain it will be not easy to maintain our present living standards for some years. But, we agree on that. We are not fighting for us, we are thinking in the next generations.
    Have you seen our grand mothers in front of the spanish police with the arms high defending the ballot boxes, enduring the repressive blows heroically?
    Do you think that they were thinking in their self?
    No… they were thinking in their families, they were thinking of their grandchildren and the children of their grandchildren.
    We are living in a world of the immediate satisfaction, despite of this, we, more than 4 milion of Catalans want to be free of the Spanish Monarchy, we want to be free of the Spanish fascist government and we are prepared for a dark times bearing in mind that good times will arrive (more sooner than later) with our effort.
    Democracy is the answer, pacifism is the way.

  • bia bansen

    Maria querida, adorei a tua análise, me ajudou um pouco mais a entender esta confusa situação da Catalunha. As nós que estamos longe só resta torcer e se quiser rezar para que tanto o Rajoy e o seu reizinho idiota não usem medidas extremadas e que Puig.. páre de se vitimizar.

  • Victor Colomer

    Difficult to understand from abroad. I apreciate the respect you talk about it and your honesty doing it. I m quite sure your father today would be independentist. This is a popular 21st century revolution and it s said the grand parents revolution. Olders and youngers shaking hands. Leftist and rightist shaking hands. We are ready to suffer even much more. Time to finish four centuries of humiliations.

    • Maria Schnabel

      I hope you are right, Victor. Thanks for the comment.

  • Carlos

    Oye…tan cercano al dilema de los puertorriqueños. Si hasta las banderas de Cataluña y P.R. se parecen! En nuestro caso, es un bonito ideal que no tiene sentido práctico. Seguimos siendo second-class citizens. Es cierto que el gobierno federal nos ha tratado mal tras el huracán, pero nos ha tratado, así sea porque no le queda remedio. Y a los que ya no ven futuro en la isla, tienen la comodidad de vernir al “mainland”. Imagínate si hubiéramos sido una república caribeña, donde la gente no tiene donde escapar con tan solo agarrar un avion!

    • Maria Schnabel

      Interesante la comparación, Carlos. Tanto Puerto Rico como Cataluña padecen de un problema de imagen: la gente de fuera desconoce o no se interesa por las circunstancias que cada uno atraviesan.

  • Mercedes

    Muy bien dicho Mariona, yo no estoy segura de que lado ir, oigo por un lado a mi familia, independentistas y por otro lado mi hermano y amigas que no saben lo que un futuro independiente va a traer. Como tu dices, tal como va el mundo economicamente para mi tampoco tiene sentido separarse. Creo que por ahora hay más corazón que cerebro en esta decision. A ver lo que pasa. Besos

    • Maria Schnabel

      Es una situación difícil, mas aún para quienes la estamos viendo de lejos.

  • Ralph de la Vega

    Maria this is a great heartfelt piece about love of family and country. Thank you for sharing and helping us to better understand the struggle of people of Catalonia.

  • Isabel Argany

    Unes reflexions que es pregunten que passa i perquè i uns comentaris sincers. No és poca cosa. Ja m’agradaria que aquesta necessitat d’entendre abundes més. Gràcies per l’esforç.

    • Maria Schnabel

      Gràcies, Isabel, per afagir-hi el teu.

  • Anita Root

    Thank you for sharing this perspective – intelligent and thought provoking.

    • Maria Schnabel

      Thanks for the comment, Anita. Hope you are doing well.

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