It’s interesting to read British broadsheets whilst in the midst of the Catalan-Spanish political crisis about next week’s referendum. In particular, it seems to me that The Guardian is reflecting from the perspective of the Spanish government.
Recording the sound in the street next to mine last night, 20 Sept, 10:15pm
Here in Barcelona, people were in the streets last night, either at the main protest or banging pots and pans on balconies (‘cacerolada’, or ‘saucepanning’), and shouting about freedom. All peaceful, but angry – walking home was quite moving and rather deafening. The outpouring of anger was triggered by the Spanish government’s ordering of its Guardia Civil (national police force that reminds many here of Franco-era repression) to arrest 12 Catalan officials and raid printing premises yesterday morning, resulting in the confiscation of the 10 million ballot papers.
This situation is the culmination of the past few months of planning for the Catalan referendum. The referendum itself is illegal under Spanish law, but the Catalans I have spoken to (whether or not they agree with its taking place) describe it as a last resort. The Spanish government under Rajoy has, they feel, not been interested in taking seriously their claim to independence, or their concerns about the ways that Spain capitalises on the income from Catalonia without reinvesting in it to an adequate degree.
Rajoy’s attitude is seen by many Catalans as the latest blot in a centuries-long series of campaigns by Spanish governments to repress Catalan language and culture and ‘homogenise’ Spain. Rajoy went on television last night to tell the Catalan separatists to stop their ‘fracturing’ and ‘radicalisation’ of their people, and that their activities were illegal. What stunned me – since it’s the first time I have really listened to one of his speeches – was that there was not much attempt to highlight common ground, to acknowledge the feelings beneath the actions, to suggest a way forward for a common future, taking everyone into account. There was just a ‘stop this, and we’ll talk’.
Reading the British newspapers, I’m struck by The Guardian’s focus on the Spanish government’s perspective. An article entitled ‘Is Madrid in danger of playing into Catalan separatist hands?’ says it all. To compare with other broadsheet article titles: The Guardian’s ‘Catalonia divided’ is The Telegraph’s ‘Anger in Barcelona’. The Guardian’s ‘Pro-independence protesters rally’ is The Independent’s ‘Tens of thousands hit Barcelona streets’. (The Times has a pay wall and it’s a Murdoch paper so it can take a walk.) All of these statements are broadly truthful, but with a very different emphasis and level of appreciation of the historical context.
For the moment, the protesting here is a masterclass in peaceful but noisy expression of extreme anger and hurt. It remains to be seen how the crisis will play out next week in advance of the referendum date, Sunday 1 October. Since websites etc. are forbidden to advertise the referendum, there are pages/communities you can sign up to that are entitled ‘1 October: That thing’, or similar. Protests are organised via WhatsApp groups of political activist organisations. All are appealing for activities to be peaceful.