Grayscale routine within the Catalan deadlock
Just a few blocks away from one of October 2019’s demonstrations in Catalonia, Outriders meets Maria Ibáñez and Pablo Knobel, a couple who differ on Catalan independence. Maria, whose parents are both Catalans and who has lived all her life in Barcelona, is 24 years old and is a science teacher in secondary school. Pablo, 28, a PhD student in the environment, has also lived all his life in Barcelona, but his parents are Argentinian exiles.
They both make up two links of the complex grayscale in current Catalan society. On one side, Pablo defends Catalonian independence as a device for social change, but he maintains that for this to happen, secession is not necessary. On the other hand, for Maria, independence is necessary, but more so to reject the Spanish State and its conservatism than to preserve a Catalan homeland. Others contacted for this interview had even more polarised ideological positions. With answers like „it’s too tense a subject right now”, at both ends of the so-called „equidistance”, all asked couples of relatives or friends have declined to sit face to face.
Maria and Pablo are willing to sit and talk, which is what thousands of protestors demanded their political leaders to do a few days this conversation to unravel the deadlock situation. The hashtag #SpainSitAndTalk was a worldwide trending topic for several hours.
[The two converse congenially, although specific controversial issues provoke some discordance. Above us, a police helicopter monitoring the demonstration interrupts the flow of the conversation a couple of times.]
What does the Supreme Court’s judgement of October 2019 mean for the Catalan people?
Maria: I think it’s a response from Spain that shows how the rest of the State sees us. The judgement represents a threat, or at least a wake-up call.
Pablo: We must keep in mind that this ruling does have not only impacts for Catalonians, but also Spanish and Europeans.
How has it affected your daily life?
M: Since Monday (October 14, 2019), when the judgement came out, I have been entirely mobilised, and that same day I went to the airport straight away. The rest of the days, I tried to go to as many demonstrations as I could. Mainly because of my whole social environment, both family and friends also attended. It was really the only thing we have been talking about these past few weeks.
P: The main point is that everyone talks about this, no matter what they think. And we are beginning to see many discrepancies within the independence movement. It is beginning to become clear that independence is not a completely homogeneous movement in which everyone wants one of two things: independence or union.
Does this decision complicate already tense relationships between Spain and Catalonia?
M: On one hand, it further complicates the relationship because Spain is being very hard on Catalonia. This severity distances us and confronts us, but, on the other hand, we can see that some non-Catalan Spanish people are aware of this harshness and are taking a stance in solidarity with the cause.
P: I believe that the sentence by itself is not what complicates the situation.
The decision is perhaps fair according to the law we are in, and the question then is whether the legal system in which we find ourselves is fair.
There is a lot of talking about legality and illegality with the Catalan conflict because instead of being managed politically, it is being handled by the courts. But, in short, this ruling has only revitalised a conflict that Catalonia has been dragging on for at least a decade, if not longer.
Should Catalonia adapt to the law, or should the law adapt to Catalonia?
M: There is a deeper problem: I would like to know how many people, of the voting age population, have voted for the current Constitution (approved in 1978). We should rethink all laws we apply to anything that happens in this country.
P: Perhaps in this case, where the conflict is between two countries, it’s not the Catalan or Spanish law that should be adapted, but the European one.
M: It’s interesting that you say that because Pedro Sánchez (the current president in office) uses the same narrative. We speak of Europe as a saviour when it is precisely the EU who is committing serious human rights violations, such as allowing people to drown in the Mediterranean Sea.
P: That’s a much broader issue, but I think Spain owes a lot to Europe on an economic level. Although legally, Europe does not do many things because it does not have the power to do so. Indeed, Europe doesn’t partake here because we could list several European countries with territories who seek independence.
Playing around with political fiction: what do you think is a viable option to unblock this situation?
M: We have to get to a point where we Catalans are listened rather than judged. And obviously, there must be a dialogue between politicians.
P: The first essential thing is to go through the general elections because every time any politician makes a statement, it is absolutely clear that it is winning or losing votes. From then on, politicians must realise that the majority in Catalonia is not divided between the two huge ideologies, independence or union. They should start thinking beyond that and proposing policies that affect everyone.
How do you perceive violence (in its broadest sense)?
P: I am worried about the situation in which we find ourselves, not only about the violence in the streets, which I consider to be an occasional thing but also about the political situation in general. The leaders can’t talk to each other, there’s no sign that the Spanish legal system is going to change… It’s an uneasiness that leads me to wonder, „where is this taking us?”
From what you said at the beginning, Maria, you have been following the protests more actively. How do you perceive, or have you perceived violence in your milieu?
M: A lot of people gather together and with so much tension and stress it’s easy for a spark to go off and for the riots to start. It happened, for example, on Monday, the first day of protests, at the airport. I also think we are doing this interview right now only because there has been violence. That is to say; it has managed to get it out of Catalonia and Spain.
P: I don’t agree at all. From the media, it seems that the riots are eclipsing the rest of the movement. We are given images of what is happening elsewhere, in Chile, for example, but here is with less intensity. On the other hand, the reporting from the October 1, 2017 referendum in which people were seen sitting in polling stations and being beaten by the police were much more powerful.
M: So, if the press won’t listen to us because worse things are happening elsewhere and Europe, at a political-legal level, doesn’t care either, what do the images matter? Torra and Sánchez should talk. We can take to the streets and protest, but politicians must sit down, talk and realise that it is not a fair judgement and do something to change it. Until that happens, I don’t think we can see any independence, nor can we see Spain worth living in.