Friday, September 27, 2013

Catalans Want to Vote

The Catalan Parliament is working to provide its citizens with a referendum they can vote on in 2014 to say Yes or No to the question of whether Catalunya should be an independent state.  As usual, the PP party of Catalunya is opposed to a referendum because, it says, it is illegal.  But the PP is a small, minority party in Catalunya and probably yet another reason why many Catalans don't want to be part of Spain where the PP party holds an absolute majority in the Spanish Parliament.  The rest seem to think that voting is what people do in a democracy. 

There are questions within the Parliament about whether there shouldn't be more than one question on the future referendum.  But I think the public wants it to be the simple question or whether or not Catalunya should remain part of Spain or gain its independence.  That is what the two huge grassroots demonstrations -- one with 1.5 million people in 2012 and the other recently with 1.6 million in the Via Catalana human chain -- were about.

It seems to me that if Catalans voted on such a referendum and the No vote won, then that would be the time to consider other options with the aim of changing the system to give Catalunya more autonomy within the framework of the Spanish state.  Oh, excuse me; Spain is a Kingdom.  Did you know that?  The problem with other options, of course, is that the Spanish Parliament would have to approved any of those, and as witnessed during the last few years with every proposal brought from the Catalan Parliament to the Spanish government, the response has always been No.  Not only No, but almost every week there is a motion from Madrid to increaseinly curtail the autonomy that Catalunya enjoys.  Thus, there is little reason to think it would suddenly change it's course.

The President of the Generalitat (President of Catalunya, something like a governor of one of the United States), Artur Mas, is the head of the CiU party, a conservative Catalan party.  In spite of the fact that neither he nor his party began this movement for independence, he (and most of his party) has responded to what he sees as the will of the people.  He has become the political leader that is working from all ends to meet the objective of a referendum and then, following the expected outcome, lead the country to a declaration of independence. 

Some on the left don't trust him because his party is right wing, and because Mas and CiU are said to only have jumped on the bandwagon once they saw the lay of the land.  But I think that we are not here to give points to who started this movement.  And it is good enough if a political leader can see what the people want and respond appropriately, even if it wasn't his idea.  In fact, I think someone like that deserves some credit.  We all know who started this movement -- Carme Forcadell -- and she will be long remembered in Catalan history.  But so will Artur Mas because with his intelligence, his diplomatic skills, and his willingness to partner up with Oriol Junkeras of the Esquerra Republicana -- the left wing party at the other end of the spectrum from that of Artur Mas -- he will be the one to make it happen.

But then, only time will tell and each day brings a little bit of news.  This is a very exciting time to be living here.

Photo credit: my pal, Trini Gonzalez

Saturday, September 21, 2013

It's Not Just Economics

Some people say that Catalans want independence from Spain because of the current financial crisis.  And many do for exactly that reason.  But there is more to it than that.  There is also the constant assault from Madrid on the Catalan language and culture.  And finally, there is the fact that whereas fascism is still alive and well in Spain, the Catalans don't share that philosophy.  The majority party that governs Spain now is the PP, a leftover of the Franco regime.  That same party enjoys only a small minority vote in Catalunya.  The difference in the way of thinking is illustrated to some extent by recent incidents.

First we have the Via Catalana, the 400-kilometer-long human chain that was held on 11 November as a demonstration that said to the Spanish government and to the world that the Catalans want to vote on a referendum concerning independence.  Voting is a basic democratic right and reasonably enough, the Catalans want to exercise it.  Voting means people can say "yes" or "no" to the proposition of independence from Spain.

One million six hundred thousand people made the chain.  Thirty thousand volunteers helped with the organization.  There was no violence, no misshaps.  There was one incident in Barcelona where a handful of masked people burned a Spanish flag and a photo of the King.  They were not participants in the chain, and no one was hurt.

Then you have the right-wing, fascist extremists who broke into the offices of the Catalan delegation in Madrid on that same day.  They entered during an activity that Catalans in Madrid were having, along with their invited guests.  There was no human chain in Madrid, but 11 September is Catalunya's National Day -- kind of like the 4th of July -- and they were celebrating with speeches and cava.  The fascists violently broke in, destroyed furniture and equipment, and injured people.  Some of the hoodlums are relatives of high-ranking government ministers and representatives.  Some of them have since been arrested.

A few days later, Catalans in the Spanish Congress demanded that the governmet condemn the fascist act and also that Spain make those fascist groups and political parties illegal (as they are in much of Europe, including Germany).  But the government wasn't interested.  Why would they be?  They had nephews who were involved, and they and/or their colleagues are themselves former participants in or descendents of Spain's own fascist Franco regime.  Government ministers, in response pointed to the burning of the Spanish flag in Barcelona saying that it was equivalent to what happened in Madrid ignoring and thus minimizing completely the 1.6 million peaceful people of the Via Catalana and focusing only on the six trouble-makers who burned a flag and were not part of the chain.

You can see for yourself the difference in tone of the Catalan Human Chain of 1.6 million people and the fascist attack in Madrid in the two videos below.  You don't have to understand any foreign language to get a good understanding of the two groups.

Here you have the Spanish fascists in Madrid (there's a brief commercial that precedes the video)

Here you have views of sections of the 400-kilometer (250-mile) Via Catalana which was much like a celebration (with whole families participating)

I don't get credit for that wonderful photo.  It came from a news source somewhere on the internet.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Via Catalana for Independence

When I first came to Catalunya in 2001, not many people spoke of independence.  And yet even then I could see that Catalunya was swimming against the tide that Madrid imposed on it. 

Some people think that because of the poor economy, Catalans are now much more interested in independence from Spain.  And I think that for many, it is about money.  And why not?  They get taxed and get less back proportionately than Spanish citizens in the other parts of Spain.  They drive on toll highways when in other parts they drive for free.  They get less money per student for scholarships than other parts of Spain.  Those are only two examples.  They are being impoverished so that other Spaniards can live better than they do.  It isn’t a matter of not showing solidarity, but of being ripped off in an unfair system. 

But money isn’t the only thing.  The attacks on Catalan culture and its language have become more intense and more frequent to the point where a large number of people have had enough and now feel they have to defend their identity.

And so, last year on Catalunya’s National Day, La Diada, there was a demonstration in support of Catalan independence that 1.5 million people attended in Barcelona.  This year, there was another, bigger demonstration when 1.6 million people joined hands in the Via Catalana for Independence, the human chain that stretched along the length of Catalunya from France to the border with Valencia.

The logistics of organizing such a massive demonstration boggles the mind.  There are 400 kilometers to cover.  You don’t want everyone massed in urban areas like Barcelona while other lightly populated areas remain empty.  Therefore you need to convince people from the large urban centers to displace to the rural ones.  And you need to allow them to get there and get back.  But the demonstration will take place along streets, roads, and highways.  And those streets, roads, and highways have to be closed when the thousands of people arrive and stand along them.  They can’t just arrive and then leave.  It will take time to get everyone in their place. 

You want to get photos.  Besides the important public relations that the visual images will provide, you want to be sure to have proof of numbers when the government in Madrid says, after it’s all over, that only 400,000 thousand people participated.  Which we all knew ahead of time they would do, and which of course they did.  But now there are enough images to prove how massive the demonstration really was. 

Photos and videos were organized on the ground.  Every section of 500 meters had several volunteer organizers including photographers.  Just before the actual start time, the photographers took photos, every few feet, of their section.  Those photos will be joined together to produce a mega photo of the event.  The event was also covered by video taken from helicopters.

This year’s Via Catalana for Independence was organized by the same group that organized last year’s massive demonstration in Barcelona.  The Assemblea Nacional Catalana (ANC) is a grassroots movement led by the most amazing woman, Carme Forcadell.  The ANC thought of everything. 


They asked people to sign up in advance and assigned participants to numbered sections, based on where they lived, and how far they were willing to displace.  This enabled them to organize things so that people from urban areas and places where the Via would not pass, would go to the rural areas, near their town or in the south of Catalunya where the population is very sparse.  They organized buses so that as few private cars as possible would be used.  They organized parking for those who drove.  They arranged with the Catalan government and police to have the streets, roads, and highways where the chain would pass closed beginning 4 pm and remain closed until 6 when the demonstration would end.  They arranged that tolls would not be charged during the period when drivers had no other option because of the secondary roads being closed for the demonstration.

The chain was not always a straight line.  In Barcelona it went over, under, around, and through several parts of the city, passing by the Palau de la Generalitat (the Catalan government seat), the Catalan Parliament building, the Sagrada Familia, and the Camp Nou football field.  Even so, photos show that the most emblematic spots were not a chain but a mass of people. 


In anticipation of this immense influx of people, the whole center of Barcelona was closed to any kind of traffic (except emergency services) during the afternoon.  No cars, taxis, or buses (neither public transportation nor tourist buses).  If you wanted to get around Barcelona that afternoon, you could walk or take the metro.

They organized photographers on the ground and in the air.  They made yellow t-shirts because yellow would stand out well in photos and the chain would look more united.   (But in fact, there were so many Catalan independence flags being worn and draped and waved, that you could hardly see the t-shirts!)

11 September is La Diada, Catalunya’s National Day.  The official time of the human chain was 17:14, to commemorate the year in which the Catalans were defeated in the War of Spanish Succession on 11 September 1714.  We were told to arrive one hour or more before the start time and check in at the information table that had been set up for each of the 800 sections.   Each section of 500 meters had a table, a marker with the section number (mine was section 674), with several volunteers.  There one of the organizers told us approximately where to place ourselves, within our section so that we wouldn’t all be bunched together.

At 4 pm when the road was closed, we had a rehearsal so that we could adjust our positions.  Later there was another rehearsal so that the mega photo could be shot.  Then, at 17:14, the church bells rang out and we all held hands.

The human chain stretched for 400 kilometers (about 250 miles), through 86 municipalities.  There were more than 500,000 demonstrators in Barcelona alone.  Sixty thousand people from heavily populated areas and towns not on the chain route made their way to the south of Catalunya to be in the chain there, where the population is sparse.  Thirty thousand volunteers worked to place us, photograph us, and make sure that everything went smoothly on the day.  One million six hundred thousand people made the chain.  One of them, Montserrat Sans, is 102 years old and was the oldest participant at the Via Catalana on Wednesday. 

It was a massive demonstration of people who want the right to vote on a referendum, something you would think was a basic right in any democratic country.  And yet today, two days after the event, the Spanish government has said that a referendum is illegal and therefore not possible.

The new Barcelona Football Club t-shirts
have the stripes of the Catalan flag
which works well for demonstrations
as well as football games

Waiting for 17:14


Avi, remember this policeman?

My Via neighbors

The Via making its way through Catalunya

It's over.  Now for the festa!

Heading for the Rambla of Figueres

They may be blurred, but they've got the spirit!

Here's a lovely video that gives you a good sense of the festive feel of the demonstration

And here's another video that shows the large variety of people who participated.  It also gives you a good opportunity to hear Catalan spoken, in case you never have.

All photos are mine with the exception of the one of Carme Forcadell, the castells at Tarragona, and the aerial view.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Government-run Health Care

Today I went to the doctor for an annual review and the yearly renewal of my blood pressure prescription.  I asked for an appointment on Tuesday (to schedule an appointment you have to present your health card) and was scheduled for today, Friday.  I went to the clinic which is about a fifteen-minute walk from my home, taking a book along, just in case…  

I arrived a few minutes early and sat among six or eight couples in the waiting area outside several doctor offices.  Good I had brought a book.  My appointment was for 3:50.  By 4 pm I was finished and back on the street walking home.

There’s no check in when you arrive at the clinic.  You just seat yourself somewhere near the door of your doctor’s consulting room and wait until you’re called.  It’s different when you have an appointment at the hospital.  There, you must check in, either electronically if the facility is equipped with card readers, or at the reception desk, if it’s not. 

The retail price of my medication (enalapril/hidroclorotiazida is what it’s called here) is 25.76 euros.  I  only pay 74 cents co-pay under the national healthcare scheme.  The doctor’s visit doesn’t cost anything.  Besides the renewed prescription, the doctor gave me an authorization for blood and urine analyses, which I will wait til November to do.  When the blood and urine analyses are done, I will return to the doctor for a follow up, and I will not have to pay for any of that either.