“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.