|This was illegal on 1 October|
Mario Vargas Llosa came to Barcelona today to participate in a demonstration against Catalan independence. The Nobel Laureate seemed to have no problem with the police violence of the week before, or at least he didn’t mention it.
But others at the demonstration did address the issue. Hundreds went to place themselves in front of the precinct of the National Police on Via Laetana where they thanked, applauded, and kissed the police who had beaten up their fellow citizens the week before.
This demonstration was called by a citizens’ group, but who was really behind it was the PP party and the Ciutadanos – both right wing parties who are against not only Catalan independence, but the right of the Catalans to vote to see how many actually want it and how many don’t.
Today’s demonstration was billed as the march of the silent majority. The Unionists – those who are against independence and for the maintenance of the present union – have always said that the majority of Catalans do not want independence and lately have utilized the term “silent majority” – a term which is impossible to prove or disprove without a vote. And yet it is the same Unionists who have declared a referendum on the issue illegal. Thus we are left with the fictional silent majority.
The silent majority today numbered 350,000, as estimated by the local police. It was a peaceful demonstration, it was legal, and there were no threats by any police or anyone else against the marchers. If you consider that last Sunday, on 1 October, over 2 million (2,262,425 ballots could be counted, additional ballots had been confiscated by police) people came out to vote, in spite of being told by Madrid that voting was illegal, and in spite of the threat implied by sending thousands of Spanish National police to the area to stop the voting, and in spite of actual police violence and brutality against voters – violent police attacks that began at 9 in the morning, you have to wonder which is the majority and which the minority.
The other notable factor in today’s 350,000 people who constitute the silent majority of Catalans is that many thousands of them came in on charter buses from all over Spain. The organizers and the two political parties behind the event put out a call for participation from all Spaniards and some thousands responded and came. In the on-street interviews on the news, only 2 of the 10 I saw interviewed could speak Catalan. How many of the Catalan silent majority were actually Spaniards who lived in Madrid, Seville, Burgos, or Salamanca?
Vargas Llosa came today to make a speech. He has been vocally against independence for some time. I wondered how much he actually knew about the issue outside of what the Madrid authorities and Madrid press says. He was certainly unfamiliar with the major Catalan players, mispronouncing the names of both Catalan President Puigdemont, Vice President Junqueras, and having to ask someone else on stage what the name of the President of the Parliament was (Forcadell) and then getting it wrong when he repeated it.
Although he is a world-class writer and had won the Nobel Prize for literature, his comments against Catalan independence have no creativity about them and simply adhered to the PP party line. Today he told the cheering crowd that the Catalan independence movement constitutes nationalism, fanaticism, and racism. (He left out Nazism. The leaders and press of Madrid love to describe Catalan demonstrations and independence movement as being like Nazis.)
This shocked me. It was as if the man had just landed from Mars. There is more than one definition of nationalism, and we all knew which one Vargas Llosa meant. One definition refers to patriotic sentiment. What Vargas Llosa was talking about was the extreme form of patriotism marked by a feeling of superiority over other countries, currently an issue among some of the other European nations
Catalans don’t want to exclude anyone and there is nothing in their speeches, writings or personal discourse, as far as I’ve heard, to indicate that they feel superior to anyone. They take in more immigrants than anywhere else in Spain bending over backwards to help them and make them feel welcome. They want nothing more than to remain part of the European Union and keep on paying in their share.
As for fanaticism, if people believe in something very strongly, they work tirelessly to achieve it, even at personal risk. That is called committed. That was what the freedom fighters in Mississippi did in the 60s and what the suffragettes did before them. Working for change or justice, being dedicated to an ideal, is not fanaticism, unless you are on the other side of the issue.
Some people like Vargas Llosa say the Catalan independentists are nationalistic, others say they want to secede for financial reasons. But there are many other reasons for secession. These have to do with protecting their culture and language and much more from Spanish onslaught. The foreign press talks often about how Catalans have a lot of autonomy. But just in the last few years the Madrid government has prevented the Catalans from doing the following:
The Catalan government passed a law that would prohibit the utility companies from turning off service in the winter months of people who are at risk. The Social Services Department would provide the information as to whether or not the person met the requirements for that protection. The Spanish government said this was not fair to all the Spaniards living outside of Catalonia who do not have that protection.
The Catalan government passed a law to prohibit fracking. The Spanish government said it was not in their jurisdiction to do that.
The Catalan government attempted to protect citizens who were swindled by banks with mortgages and investment schemes that were fraudulent and denounced by the European Union. The Spanish government said it was not within their jurisdiction to do that.
The language of instruction in Catalan public schools is Catalan as it has been for 30 or more years. But the Spanish government tried to force the Catalan school system to use Spanish. When one parent complained that he wanted his child to be taught in Spanish, the court ruled in his favor and directed the school that the whole class had to be taught in Spanish. That means that 29 other people have to submit to the one.
Several years ago the Catalan government prohibited bullfights. A couple of years later, the Spanish government declared bullfighting a national treasure, thus overriding the Catalan prohibition.
The rail line that runs up the Spanish Mediterranean coast is, in many places, a single track, requiring one train to wait for another that is passing in the opposite direction. This is a heavily used line of both passenger and freight trains connecting Spain with France and the rest of Europe, and is where most cargo transport moves, passing the ports of Valencia and Barcelona – the two biggest ports in Spain. For years the European Union has said that the line needs to be enlarged so that trains would not need to make unproductive stops. It is concerned because not only would it help better connectivity for Spain, but obviously for the rest of Europe. But Spain refuses. Its method is to build transportation lines that radiate from Madrid, and Madrid is not on the Mediterranean.
Wales, which is part of the United Kingdom, has teams representing it in international sports competitions. Catalonia would like to do the same but is not allowed by Spain to do that. Does the constitution also limit sports teams?
There are many others I could list. They are all examples of where, notwithstanding the autonomy it is supposed to enjoy, Spain interferes in Catalan affairs to the detriment of the Catalan people.
Catalans don’t feel they are better than other Spaniards; they just want the others to leave them alone to run their own community in peace.
The Catalans are not how Vargas Llosa described them. They are not nationalists in the negative sense of the word, not fanatics, and not racists. Whether or not a majority wants independence, all polls show that a majority of about 80% want the right to vote to determine the issue. When the 2 million votes were counted after the polls closed on 1 October, it showed that 89% had voted Yes and 7.8% had voted No.