Have you noticed a change in atmosphere amongst your friends and colleagues? While it’s impossible not to think about the current political crisis affecting Catalonia, it’s getting harder and harder to talk about it. In this normally relaxed and open city, people are becoming cautious about talking politics unless they are sure they will agree. When was the last time you had a conversation about the issue with someone who you disagreed with?
A few minutes on Twitter is enough to witness the vitriol pouring out from both sides. Flag icons, insults and ridicule abound. An uncomfortable sense of enmity and suspicion is growing between friends, neighbours, colleagues, even families. A recent article in El Periodico reported a poll that suggested around 40% of respondents had stopped talking politics with a friend or family member, and 12% had actually stopped seeing or speaking to someone because of the toxic atmosphere.
Leaders on both sides emphasise the polarisation of opinion, and actively make enemies out of their opponents. Pick your side and your flag, and swallow the narrative whole. Yet who does this serve? I feel a growing sense of despair and helplessness at the reckless abandon with which each side pursues “victory” at the expense of the social and economic consequences for ordinary people. We need to set an example for our inept and corrupt leaders by refusing to divide the people who surround us into friends and enemies.
No solution will come by defeating a perceived enemy, only by finding consensus. That means talking, and even more importantly, listening. It’s harder than it sounds – it’s uncomfortable to have your ideas challenged but like it or not, we are all in this together. We share an interest in finding a solution that everyone can live with, and we will all suffer if we fail. I think many people underestimate just how bad things can get if this crisis spirals further out of control. There is a lot to lose.
If this sounds dewy-eyed, think again. It’s about finding a practical way forward. Stubborn adherence to the prevailing dogmas – on the one hand that imposing Article 155 will put an end to the pro-independence movement, or on the other, that an independent Catalan republic can simply be declared without grave consequences for the social and economic fabric of this society – are the real fantasies.
I asked a group of people for their thoughts about what’s happening. No two said the same thing, but every single one loves this place hopes for a positive outcome. Some lean more to one side or the other, but scratch below the surface and you find nuances not reflected in the polarised picture painted by those who would divide us. One message shines through – dialogue – we must talk and listen to each other.
There are many voices and many perspectives in Catalonia. Can you challenge yourself to listen to them and think about what they say? Even better, can you engage in good faith with someone in your life who has a different perspective to you?
You can start with the voices below:
Karlijn, 39 (Speaks Dutch, English, Spanish & Catalan)
I’m from The Netherlands. I fell in love with Barcelona 10 years ago and decided to change my life and move here. Now I have two small children with a Catalan father. I love so many things about this place: The modernist architecture, the child-friendly people, the way Catalans sometimes seem like Dutch, the open spaces (literally and figuratively speaking) you can find in the city, the multi-cultural and peaceful way of living. But I do worry about the future, especially seeing bad politicians who avoid dialogue and who actually are more concerned about their career or ego than about their citizens that they should represent. Every time I think they should come to their senses, they just get it worse…both sides.
I hope the politicians will actually LISTEN TO THE PEOPLE about what is really going on. It´s obvious that something has to change, but does anyone really know what exactly people would like? Why are so many Catalans unsatisfied? Has anyone ever really asked them that? And I hope they will find out that the extremes like independence or dictatorship aren´t the only solutions. I really hope people like Ada Colau (Mayor of Barcelona) or Manuela Carmena (Mayor of Madrid) can represent the people in politics. They listen to their citizens rather than their egos.
And after they have listened, I would like them to think CONSTRUCTIVELY about the future instead of pointing to other one´s flaws and failures. And maybe they’ll find that it really can work very well to meet in the middle, through compromises. That´s what politics is about for me. But that´s probably very Dutch of me.
Cecilia, 42 (Speaks Spanish, English and some Catalan and Portuguese)
I came to Barcelona from Argentina to do a doctorate with the initial idea of returning to Argentina afterwards. I got a positive impression from Barcelona from the beginning, being located in a natural environment of great beauty and for its architectural wealth, but especially because I felt very welcomed. Little by little and without realizing it, I was identifying more with the Catalan society than with the Argentinian one, although I do not really speak Catalan.
In the last few years, various political proposals arising in Catalonia were systematically ignored or rejected by the ruling political parties in Spain, which provoked a widespread feeling of disaffection in Catalan society. We should never have got to this point, but now I believe that the solution is to allow a legal and agreed referendum to be held, allowing the people to express their will. Any attempt to control or intervene in the governance and means of communication in Catalonia will only deepen the feeling of aversion the population has towards the Spanish state.
Ricardo, 41 (Speaks Spanish, Catalan, English and Italian)
I was born in Santander and moved to Barcelona with my family when I was 13. I love the lifestyle here, with a diverse mix of people coming from different cultures and with very good opportunities for professional development.
The current crisis, even without yet being the worst-case scenario, is having a negative impact on my business, which depends to some extent on the tourism sector. The outlook is worrying when social stability is put at risk or questions are raised about the country’s future status, such as a possible break-up and departure from the European Union. The future is uncertain as long as the crisis generated by political institutions continues, and this insecurity could lead me to look for new opportunities in another city.
I hope that politicians approach the situation via dialogue and seek the welfare and stability of the citizens they represent, beyond partisan interests. It is necessary to return to a dynamic of dialogue and understanding that allows building together, instead of looking for points of difference. I also hope that the tension of the people in the street will be reduced and the politicians themselves will find solutions, without using people to generate more pressure and without generating an irreparable social fracture.
MªCarmen, 43 (Speaks Catalan, Spanish, and some English and French)
I was born in Barcelona and I have always lived in this city. I love the sea, which allows me to escape from the city without needing to leave it. Barcelona is big enough to offer me what I have needed at every stage of my life, and small enough to move on my bike or on foot to enjoy it. I am grateful to live in a place where you are in permanent contact with people from other parts of the world.
The current political crisis has invaded my day-to-day life, becoming a preoccupation from which it is difficult to isolate myself. It has affected my life not so much materially or economically but emotionally. My main concerns stem from the fear of living in a society destined to possible chaos by the refusal of two parties to agree. For two years I have had the perception that the pro-independence movement has fed expectations in such a way that any result other than independence will not be seen as acceptable.
I hope that, despite my fears, a third way will be possible in which Catalonia will have the right to be recognized as a nation, and to maintain its rights of self-government with an improved fiscal pact, but without having to raise new borders.
Paola, 41 (Speaks Spanish)
I’m originally from Argentina. There are so many reasons why I love Barcelona: the city seems kind, encompassing, plural. The landscape, the atmosphere, the cultures, the opportunities, etc. Because it is a safe city, civic, orderly, modern, restless, respectful, demanding, supportive.
I am very concerned about the almost forced positions that are generated in my social environment, the progressive fanaticism in the people of my wider social environment. I am concerned that there is almost no place to talk about other social problems that we have been living with. These same bad policies have led us to polarized opinions. I am worried about the escalation of power and that the people will participate in it. I am not worried about the economic future of Barcelona, but about the social price that this crisis will have and how to repair the enmity and antipathy that are on the rise.
I want to imagine that we will have the opportunity to express ourselves freely through the ballot boxes, with freedom and respect. I repeat: freedom and respect.
Geovani, 47 (Speaks Spanish, English and Portuguese)
I come from Ecuador. Barcelona has always been my favourite city in Spain, and it is almost a dream come true having settled here. I think if Catalonia gets dragged out of Spain it would create all sorts of negative effects not only for the local people but also for foreigners. There’s no point even considering dividing one county into two: it doesn’t work, it never has, and it never will. This is why I think the current political situation should be resolved by reminding and pushing to make the Catalan politicians understand that Catalonia is part of Spain and it will remain as such.
Elisa, 41 (Speaks Spanish, Catalan, French and English)
I was born in Seville and moved to Barcelona in 1995 to study. The city is both big and compact – the perfect size for using public transport or walking if you have time. I like life in the neighbourhoods, which are like small villages. It’s a cosmopolitan, modern city with a good climate and both the sea and mountains. It’s perfectly situated towards Europe.
I have a lot of uncertainty about the current situation. It causes me a bit of uneasiness not knowing exactly what is going to happen and how it will affect me and my family personally at work and school level. On the other hand, I believe that this movement is necessary, since in Spain democracy leaves much to be desired. I am concerned about the indoctrination of the media against Catalonia. I am worried about the rebirth of the Franco regime, going back 40 years in history.
In a utopia: I would like to see the situation resolved with democracy: Burying the Franco regime, destroying the valley of the fallen, taking power away from the banks… But out of the utopia, I think it can only be solved if Europe appeals for dialogue without applying Article 155. Maybe the Pope Francisco would have the power of conviction…I leave it in the air. Right now, I see everything very black and the image I have of Barcelona in the coming months is the movies of the 60s, all grey and police in the street. They just want to conquer with threats and fear.
Britta (Speaks German, English, Spanish and Catalan)
I’m from Germany originally, I came to live in Barcelona because my boyfriend (now husband) who’s from India was already living here. I love everything but the inefficient bureaucracy.
The current crisis might affect me personally: my NIE and working in my profession is based on an agreement with the EU. In an independent state I am not sure where I would stand personally and professionally. I hope that the situation will be resolved peacefully and respectfully.
Clara, 41 (Speaks Spanish, Catalan, English, and a little German, French and Italian)
I was born in Esplugues de Llobregat, and I lived in Andorra for a year. My parents are emigrants, from a town in Badajoz, they arrived in Barcelona in 1967. Barcelona is a large and diverse city. You can be anonymous. You have the sea, mountains, and countless cultural activities.
What is affecting me more than anything else now is the opposition, or the controversy, that is being generated in the rest of Spain. There are people who talk about hate, from the Catalans to Spain or the Spanish. This is a lie. I have always been welcomed, it has never been taken into account if my origin was Catalan or Spanish. I have never felt a comment of hatred towards Spain or its inhabitants. I want to believe that there will be dialogue, and that although companies change their tax domicile, companies and jobs will stay in Barcelona. I’m not afraid.
I would like the politicians, from all positions, to be cautious and yield, on both sides. A solution could be negotiated for the benefit of all.
Coral, 47 (Speaks Spanish, Catalan, English and Dutch)
I’m originally from Santander. I came to Barcelona with my family as a child. I love the culture, the people the quality of life.
I am worried about the outcome of the stress and negativity. My main worries are the impact on coexistence, the demonstrations and the economic impact of this crisis. Also about my own work since I teach Spanish to foreigners. I hope it can be resolved with dialogue between the two parties, and with new elections.
Virginia, 37 (Speaks Catalan, Spanish, English, French and Japanese)
I was born in Barcelona. My family lives here, all my memories from my childhood are set here and I feel like I belong.
The current crisis is making me furious to see how backward Spanish democracy is. I can’t believe we’re experiencing this kind of repression coming from the most corrupt politicians in Europe. I am very disappointed with the unsupportive role the EU has taken in this conflict and I have the feeling that being part of Spain is tragic, but it is even worse to belong to the European accomplices of the biggest thieves in Spain.
I have no worries about the future. I believe that the current Spanish government will collapse one way or another and eventually democracy will be restored/installed in this country. I want to see a unilateral declaration of independence or any other step towards independence. There’s no going back. Catalans will never forget.
Q H Hang (Speaks English, Cantonese, Spanish, and Catalan)
I’m from New Zealand, I came to Barcelona because of love. I love the climate, the diversity of culture, rich in traditions, language and history and how it’s very well situated for travel to other parts of Europe. What’s worrying me is the instability and what that means for current and future plans. It’s difficult to foresee what will happen, so we’ve adopted a concept of day-by-day. The problem needs to be resolved with dialogue, with an open mind, in a peaceful process where Catalunya can be recognised as an individual political entity, but working together with the central Spanish government. This is a political issue NOT A LEGAL ISSUE!
Shannon, 36, (Speaks English, Spanish and some Catalan)
I grew up in South Africa and the UK. I came to Barcelona while travelling to visit my parents, who live here. But then I met my other half and now more than 11 years later this is very much home. I love the lifestyle, I like the sense of family and general family values, the way of life, the heart of this place and I like how people stand up for the things they believe in.
In my day to day outside life there hasn’t been any effect in the sense of school is still open, shops are still open, jobs are still there. Nothing has collapsed. However, on a people level there has been a big change. Everywhere you go people are talking and writing about the political situation. You can’t go through Facebook without every other story being political. And EVERYONE has an opinion. Obviously. Most people are respectful but some are not. In too many occasions your opinion is wrong because you don’t agree with them, whatever your opinion may be.
My parents sit on one side of the fence, my husband sits on the other. I sit in the middle. My parents don’t understand how this is happening and why, and my husband doesn’t understand why people wouldn’t want independence and therefore a better life. Because in his heart he believes things will eventually be better if Catalunya breaks away. Whereas my parents feel that all governments suck but it’s not as bad as some, so Catalunya should stay. I can try to explain things to both sides but no one will really understand or change their opinion, will they? I’m exhausted by the whole thing to be honest. Too few people seem willing to just accept other people’s opinions right now.
While I am not convinced that Catalunya is ready for independence YET, I also want nothing at all to do with the Spanish government. The thought of having to continually be stuck under a government that no one here ever votes for is so disheartening. I would’ve hoped that this would have led to talks. Negotiations. Let the Catalan Parliament bring in the Statute of Autonomy that the PP and Spanish Constitutional Court hollowed out a few years back. Give them more autonomy, compromise, and maybe try and treat Catalunya with a little more respect. I remember once hearing David Cameron saying that they loved Scotland and didn’t want Scotland to leave. Have you ever heard anything similar come out of Rajoy’s mouth? Nothing but “The Catalan Problem”.