When 47-year-old photographer Mertxe Alarcon went to her parent’s home in Tarragona to celebrate her father’s 78th birthday last week, all hell broke loose when they touched the subject of independence.
“I took him loads of [pro-independence] texts to read, and told him to read them when he gets the chance,” Ms. Alarcon told The Globe Post. “But it’s really hard for us to have a serene conversation, my father has always been a Socialist, he has a good pension and the idea of losing it terrifies him.”
While families in Catalonia have broken due to differences in opinion regarding independence, Ms. Alarcon and her father are able to put their differences aside. But the tension in her family is a reflection of how riven the situation in Catalonia currently is, with “Esteladas” (separatist flags) colliding with Spanish ones on balconies across the region.
On October 8, tens of thousands of people marched down streets in Barcelona to call for the region to remain a part of Spain. The march came after a unilateral referendum in which Catalans were asked if they wanted to form an independent republic. But the referendum was deemed illegal by Spain’s constitutional court. The vote ended in complete chaos as voters clashed with police, leaving hundreds of citizens injured and damaging the country’s global image.
The Catalan government said 90 percent of 2.3 million votes cast were in favor of independence, but the results couldn’t be confirmed and were lopsided, with many Catalans against secession saying they wouldn’t vote in what they believed was a sham.
On Tuesday, Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont told the assembly: “I assume the mandate of the people for Catalonia to become an independent state in the shape of a republic.” He then went on to say that although Catalonia had “won the right to independence,” the declaration had been suspended to create dialogue.
Mr. Puigdemont’s confusing speech led Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Wednesday to ask the Catalan government to clarify whether Catalonia had declared independence or not and said he was initiating a request for Article 155 to be invoked, which would suspend Catalonia’s autonomous status.
The unfolding of the situation has led to panic, with major Catalan bank Sabadell announcing its plan to relocate and multinational firms considering leaving Barcelona. The E.U. is scrambling to avoid a Catalan exit which could see a domino effect and the bloc further disintegrating.
Many Catalans, referred to as the “silent majority,” but who have recently hit the streets to protest independence, fear the effects this turning point would have.
“I’m not in favor of new barriers. With globalization and a united European Union, independence doesn’t make sense, despite having been disappointed by the EU in many ways,” Carlos Puig, a 26-year old graphic designer and web developer working at his father’s software company in Barcelona, told The Globe Post.
“If the excuse for independence is economical, it is going to carry many risks, so it really doesn’t pay off,” Mr. Puig added.
Catalonia has been part of Spain for centuries, but those pushing for independence say they are very different to Spanish people, pointing to their culture, language and history, and to the fact that its economy generates over a fifth of Spanish GDP. Around 41 percent of Catalans support independence, according to a Catalan government poll in July, and 70 percent want a referendum.
“For 11 years we have been asking Spain to solve our tax burden problem and to create a decentralized state to be able to have more economic control, but that has always been denied to us,” 29-year-old chef Hector Martinez Vaz told The Globe Post. “The King or bull-fighting and other cultural aspects just don’t represent me,” he added.
On Monday, when Mr. Puigdemont issued the suspended declaration of independence, Mr. Martinez Vaz was at his local bar in the coastal town of Calella, with a group of friends. Immediately after the speech, he received “thousands” of memes, audio clips and messages on WhatsApp and Facebook discussing the pros and cons of the conundrum.
“It can be quite saturating,” Mr. Martinez Vaz sighed, before adding “I liked Puigdemont’s speech, it opened a door for dialogue. But I don’t think Catalonia will become independent. In my view, Francoism hasn’t been eradicated, and the Spanish government has the upper hand.”
Today’s Catalonia is sharply divided and facing great uncertainty. But Ms. Alarcon, who is now avoiding the subject of independence with her father to remain on good terms, is feeling expectant.
“I think Puigdemont’s declaration was a brilliant tactic,” Ms. Alarcon said. “If article 155 is applied, it is considered a coup and Catalonia would have its political autonomy suspended. But there is totally going to be independence. I should be afraid as a self-employed worker, but it’s going to be better in the long-run.”