Here in Catalonia, people no longer feel like they live in a democracy

The turmoil of the past weeks, with Catalonia proclaiming independence, and Madrid stamping it down, amid bitterness and violence, has been a reminder of dark days gone by

Kim Sengupta
Barcelona
Wednesday 01 November 2017 18:08 GMT
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The economy is suffering from the current upheaval with a marked impact on tourism which accounts for 12 per cent of the region’s GDP
The economy is suffering from the current upheaval with a marked impact on tourism which accounts for 12 per cent of the region’s GDP (Getty)

Friends and relations had gathered together to lay flowers and light candles on the graves of their departed, as is the custom during Day of the Dead celebrations in Catalonia. The thought of many at the commemorations this year, however, was not of just the past, but what lies ahead in an uncertain future.

The Garrigo family had come to the cemetery on the slope of the Montjuic hills to pay their respect to their grandfather who was killed in a battle at Terrasa in Spain’s civil war; one among the thousands who died trying to save Barcelona from advancing fascist forces. The fall of the Catalan capital, when it took place, was a hammer blow to the country’s Republican government. Hitler and Mussolini increased air strikes, poured in more supplies for Franco to help crush remaining opposition and just a few months later Britain and France recognised the rebel general’s military regime as Spain’s legitimate government.

The turmoil of the past weeks, with Catalonia proclaiming independence, and Madrid stamping it down, amid bitterness and violence, has been a reminder of those dark days with anger at chants in the name of Franco and Nazi salutes by Spanish nationalist demonstrators – albeit a relatively small number – opposed to what they see as the dismemberment of their country.

Members of the Catalan administration, disbanded by the Spanish government, are due to present themselves before a court in Madrid on Thursday to answer charges of sedition, rebellion and embezzlement. Failure to do so would lead to them being pursued and detained. Instead of starting to rule Europe’s newest “independent” country, the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, is in exile in Belgium. His refusal to appear before judges is likely to lead to the issuing of an arrest warrant which could prevent him from running in an election called, by Madrid, in December.

Two members of the Catalan cabinet who fled to Brussels with Puigdemont, interior minister Joaquim Forn and Dolors Bassa, the labour minister, returned to Barcelona late on Tuesday evening. Puigdemont’s lawyer in Belgium, Paul Bekaert, said his client will stay where he is “because of the high risk of detention. He prefers to wait and observe what happens for the time being. I have suggested that the Spanish question him here. That is possible, but I don’t know if that will happen”.

But in Madrid, Judge Carmen Lamela of the National Audience Court stressed that the state prosecutor is expected to follow procedure and issue the warrant.

Carles Puigdemont says he cannot return to Catalonia because Spain is intent on 'vengeance'

Some of the other ministers and deputies facing charges say they will be going to Madrid to avoid Spanish security forces raiding their homes and offices and prevent the possibility of clashes of the sort seen when police detachments sent by Madrid tried to stop the referendum for independence taking place by seizing ballot boxes.

A sizeable force of the Spanish civil guard has been sent to Catalonia from other parts of Spain since the confrontation began. On Tuesday they raided eight offices of the Catalan regional police, Mossos d'Esquadra, to gather evidence for possible charges in relation to what took place during the referendum.

The head of Mossos, Josep Lluis Trapero, was sacked over the refusal of his men and women to refuse orders by Madrid to stop the vote taking places. They pointed out that this would lead to clashes with activists who were guarding the polling stations, which is, in fact, what happened when the national police tried to enforce the orders.

One of the raided buildings was the headquarters of Mossos in Sabadell where communications on the day of the referendum were collated. The city is eight miles from Terrasa where 24-year-old engineer, trade unionist and volunteer soldier Vincenc Garrigo died in a mortar barrage almost eight decades ago. Standing at the graveside, his grandson Jaume said: “I have read his letters to my grandmother, what they all went through at the time, and I feel very proud. That was a time of war when people had to stand up to the dictators; to Franco, Hitler and Mussolini. People at home also suffered very much as well, often they had no heating, little food, little water.

“Of course things have changed and we live in a modern, democratic Europe. That is why what is happening here now is so strange with a vote for independence being rejected by the Spanish, just like that. Then they raid the offices of the Mossos with police from other places. Are we living in a lawful society?”

Jaume’s cousin, Tomas, complained about what he and others like him see as the indifference of the European Union to what is going on in Catalonia. “We have had no understanding no sympathy from them. We were talking about the [civil] war: you know that when Germany and Italy was supplying Franco, the French closed the border so that the [Republican] government could not get supplies to counter that? The EU countries just look after each other’s governments. But we shall get our independence, we are a determined people, we have got a strong economy and we will survive, in fact we will be OK.”

The economy, however, is suffering from the current upheaval with a marked impact on tourism which accounts for 12 per cent of the region’s GDP. The twin Islamist terrorist attacks in August in Barcelona and Cambrils which resulted in 16 deaths scarcely dented the number of visitors, but numbers fell by 15 per cent in the two weeks following the referendum violence.

Esteve Climent, who is a travel guide taking visitors to events surrounding the Day of the Dead, said “People are getting around to almost accepting that there are always possibility of terrorist attacks, there have been so many in many cities in Europe. But the pictures of police violence, frightening big rallies, that’s what seems to make people think a place is politically unstable and the result is that they stay away.”

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