I arrived in Barcelona on the first Saturday of November, in 2003. I had been before on through visits, but now I was going to work here, become part of its economy and social fabric. I didn’t yet know I was bound to stay. I'd flown in to take a group of tourists around town for three days, something I would repeat that winter every two or three weeks, telling them stories quickly gained from interested reading, and the rest of the time I was needed by my son back in Amsterdam. For me, these trips were nothing but little escapes from the dreary, cold days up north and the pain a divorce was putting me through. But as happens more often in such circumstances, boy meets girl, and less than two years later I drove a rental van south with my books, my clothes, my music collection and my by now 6 years old kid and started a new life at the age of 42.
I chose to add Spanish to my list of languages as it was ubiquitous and spoken by half a billion people worldwide, whereas the local tongue wasn't mastered by even all of the Catalan population. Two years later, after my business contacts in Amsterdam had sufficiently dried up, I became an in-company English teacher. This brought me to the industrial areas around town, where I quickly got a taste of the difficult relationship between Catalunya and what many referred to as el estado, or Spain. Most of my students were descendants of immigrants from all over the peninsula, looking for a new life in the north-east. Some chose to fully integrate into their new environment, some chose to maintain their Spanish identity while paying their Catalan neighbours due respect, others stubbornly refused to have anything to do at all with their surroundings, even after three generations seeing themselves as full-blooded Spaniards who are only in it for the money. To me, this all made little sense. Barcelona was doing fine in those years and formally belonging to Spain while being mentally on a separate island,as unnecessary and little productive as it seemed, it neither posed a great threat.Why not loosen up about it. Yet, who was I to question the local mindset?
Everything changed with the constitutional court's verdict on the Catalan statute, back in 2010. I watched the streets fill up with angry people calling for freedom, and I decided to dig into the troubled history between Spain and Catalunya. I soon concluded that the Catalans were mostly right in their not trusting the Madrilenian power structure one bit, though I wondered where the dream of an independent republic was going to bring them, especially with the friendly and reasonable president Zapatero being replaced by the fascist fool Rajoy. We would need strong international support, but with Europe becoming more authoritarian by the day, who would be wanting to back our democratic vindications? While I attended every yearly mass demonstration to check on the mood, I refused to commit myself to the independence movement. Considering the importance of greater Barcelona for the Spanish economy, at some point the authorities in Madrid would have to come to their senses and find a way out of the growing tensions by offering Catalans a reasonable deal. What I didn't know then, was that this route was already securely closed off by the central power structure. They were not going to negotiate, nor going to address the Catalan people, they meant to steal back Catalunya like their great hero Franco had done before. I thought the movement aimed to ask too much in order to get at least something, a safe guarantee on a fair tax deal, for instance, instead of the dirty little games Madrid likes to play with its budget. Refusing to invest one penny in your second city and economic engine is not only undemocratic, as it deprives a large part of your population from the chance to pursue a better life (I am talking here of the working classes, always the first to suffer bad policies, with many of them by no means supportive of independence), it is also extraordinarily stupid. At some point, I assumed, saner heads would prevail, and a deal struck. So I became something of an indepe myself, though still seeing it as a ploy to be sold in the final instance for what this town really needs, to be given the chance to grow and prosper for the benefit of all of Spain. Yet my Catalan neighbours had different ideas. They had never put their faith in Madrid and they were never going to. Even though they had not managed to reach a secure majority, due to the mix-up of their society, they were focused on only one outcome, their own Catalan republic. Their rauxa, their desire, was stronger than their seny, their cool-headedness.
And here we are, a chilly Sunday evening, two days into our little republic and on the verge of being humiliated by Madrid's power grab, which must come into full effect by tomorrow morning. We can deny their measures, as a foreign power has no business interfering in an independent republic's affairs, but what do we do when they cut off our finances, when they take over our police (as they already have) and organise a blockade of our ports and motorways, and when both our president Carles Puigdemont and Spain's vice-president Soraya Saenz de Santamaría, appointed by Rajoy as caretaker governor, claim their right to the same throne? So far support for our republic has been limited to politicians with similar agendas. They are surely not going to persuade the Union into saving us.
I quickly fell in love with Barcelona, as I did many years prior with Amsterdam when I moved there. It's a dirty old rotten town with a beautiful core, that's where the tourists convene, and many ugly and horribly dysfunctional neighbourhoods further away. It's decidedly bigger than its municipal confines, contributing to the difficulties it has to organise itself well. Yet it's a thriving town, open to the world and to new ideas. While I consider Spain, which I have travelled extensively, as a backward country where people are enthused into valuing their holidays more than improvement of their circumstances, Barcelona is different. It wants to move ahead and forge relationships with the rest of the world, both inside and out of the Union, it wants to belong to what it considers its true home, the globe. Look at those people who filled Passeig de Gràcia today, waving their little flags for king and constitution! Who needs a king these days and who still believes the law is there to guard them if they only make 800 a month? I know many Spaniards here belong to the working classes, though others have established themselves nicely, thank you, but their lack of interest not only in Catalunya but in the world in general always strikes me as inherently exaggerated. You won't find that in Catalans. Can't they really see getting more integrated in Catalan society would benefit them greatly? The separation between both sides in this town seems more mental than economical, and independence has actually very little to do with it. It has a lot to do, unfortunately, with how power treats these people. Their employers, their politicians and their media take them for idiots, hurting and robbing and bedazzling them. They tell them to greatly fear the independence process instead of trying to contact it and see if understanding can be sought. They tell them to despise their neighbours as they, it's claimed, are despised themselves. Now they are coming out and will want to claim the town as theirs. They won't succeed. They might find a chance at establishing relations after all, though.
I fully understand why Catalans want to run away from Mr Rajoy's abject version of Spain, a country full of beautiful people who are never listened to. I question their method, but this has been discussed already. I hope the rest of the country in a near future, preferably the coming weeks, will wake up to what is really going on here. Because Catalunya is only the beginning. It's the hardest nut to crack, but once they have it all of Spain will be up for grabs. The European Union clearly don't care, as long as our payments are coming their way. We will be thrown back in the cold arrogance of Castilla, under the control of people who deeply hate us. Not for who we are, really, but for existing. They need Barcelona, for its location, its factories and its footballing rivalry, but they would be happier in a world without us. We are God's punishment for their usurpy. Perhaps this is after all why they call us jews. We are their jews. They hate us for needing us. This is why I still believe some kind of smart solution should be possible, especially if Catalan voters can swallow their pride and make sure no right-wing fucker gets their hands on Catalunya after December's elections.
Visca la nostra república!