The Crisis in Catalonia & What I Saw in Our Neighborhood in Barcelona
The Crisis in Catalonia & What I Saw in Our Neighborhood in Barcelona from Wolf Street
As separatist region is rocked by violence, businesses sound alarm.
Two of Catalonia’s biggest business associations, Foment de Treball and Pimec, have called for calm and dialogue after ten days of non-stop political and civil unrest in the separatist region of Spain. At a gathering of almost 450 Catalan business people and executives on Wednesday, the two associations called for a political solution to what they described as “the grave conflict we are living through in Catalonia,” a region that is riven down the middle by the question of independence.
A key passage in the event’s joint manifesto hinted at why the crisis shows no sign of abating: “It is the responsibility of politicians, and not the justice system,” to find an “effective and decisive” solution to this conflict. Unfortunately, political dialogue and negotiation have been sorely lacking in relations between Barcelona and Madrid for a number of years. And there’s little sign of that changing.
As general elections approach, Spain’s main political parties, with the notable exception of the left-wing Podemos, are hardening their stance toward the Catalan separatists. For its part, the separatist government in Barcelona is doubling down on its calls for independence. If the elections on November 10 deliver enough votes for the triumvirate of Spain’s right-wing parties (the People’s Party, Cuidadanos and the far-right Vox, whose support appears to be growing) to form a coalition, they will crack down even harder on Catalan nationalism, which is likely to fuel even stronger pro-independence sentiment in the region.
A little more than two years have passed since more than two million people in Catalonia voted in a banned referendum to leave Spain. On that day, the separatists were given a harsh lesson in the raw power of state violence. Now, tensions are flaring once again, after Spain’s Supreme Court’s decision to sentence nine pro-independence politicians to up to 13 years in jail on charges of sedition and misuse of public funds sparked protests across the region. This time, the violence is coming from both sides:
On Monday, Oct. 14, the day the sentences were announced, thousands of protesters surrounded Barcelona airport, preventing many travelers from catching their flights and leading to over 100 flight cancellations. The police used tear gas and rubber bullets (whose use has been banned in Catalonia since 2013) to try to disperse the crowds.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, Oct 15 and 16, pockets of protesters, mostly young, engaged in pitched street battles with riot units of local and national police forces in the Eixample district of Barcelona. Scores of dumpsters were burned and other forms of vandalism committed. There were also clashes between neo-fascists and pro-independence supporters.
Here is a short video I took from our balcony. Multiple fires are burning on Passeig Sant Joan, a busy thoroughfare in the Eixample, as protesters are hurling bar-chairs and bar-tables, stones, and bricks at passing police riot vans.
On Friday, Oct 18, a general strike was called, the main highway between Spain and France was blocked as well as many others, and hundreds of thousands of marching pro-independence supporters converged on Barcelona from the surrounding regions. More than half a million people gathered for a peaceful demonstration on Passeig de Gracia. Close by, on Via Laietana, riot units of Spain’s national police clashed with protesters, resulting in dozens of injuries. One police officer was hit in the head by a brick hurled from a balcony and is still in critical condition.