Today, the Spanish courts convicted a group of Catalan politicians for sedition for their roles in the Catalan separatist movement that took place two years ago. During class this morning, we were made aware of the verdict as hundreds of marchers were protesting in the street while helicopters flew overhead.
We were warned ahead of time for the past couple of weeks what might happen if the verdict came down hard against the accused. Their defense was that they did not start the movement, but that they were only acknowledging the free speech of their constituents. The central government in Madrid views them as a threat to the state, and each of the accused received sentences between 9 and 13 years in prison. We have seen the independence flags since our arrival, and noticed yellow ribbons displayed in apartment windows too. Signs saying “Libertat Presos Politicos” (freedom for political prisoners) are ubiquitous throughout Barcelona, even though the city is split 50/50 between pro independence and pro nationalist voters.
Protesters are hitting the streets as I type. I am watching a newscast in Catalan which shows the police at the airport, and some outgoing flights have been delayed. Street protesters closed off some of the main arteries in the city such as Leitana, La Rambla, and Gran Via de Corts Castellanes. Further north in Girona, ultra conservative pro-independence groups are trying to shut down the rail lines between here and France.
one must have an understanding of the history of the region to fully grasp the severity of the situation. Although I don’t have any skin in this game and will not attempt to sway anyone to either side, the Catalan people have suffered their share of marginalization throughout their history. The most recent was after the Spanish Civil War in 1936, when the dictator Franco took over for 40 years. He hailed from the northwest province of Asturias, and tried to erase the Catalan culture from the landscape. Almost nothing was published in the Catalan language during those years. A couple of centuries earlier, the Bourbon dynasty severely punished the Catalans for supporting the Hapsburgs. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that they have a hatred of being dictated to by other cultures. Today, Barcelona and the province of Catalunya are important to the overall economy of Spain, with more being sent to the central government in Madrid in taxes than that which comes back.
I do not know how well the news in the states is covering this, but you can get some of the story at bbc news, or from a centrist Spanish newspaper called “El Pais”, which can also be read in English. The Catalan newspaper “La Vanguardia” is more right leaning, but may give those of you who read Spanish a different perspective.
What an interesting time to be here!