I have to start saying that try is the operative word here. Because, as it turns out, understanding from 5000 miles away how your country suddenly seems to be blowing up in pieces is not that easy.
I am by no means an expert, although I have fervorously followed politics since I was a three year old tike filling and licking envelopes with political ads at my parents txoko. I grew up around politics, as my dad was not only a politician, but participated in the creation of a local grassroots political party. Actually, in the Basque Country, where I grew up, it was pretty much impossible to stay away from it, as politics, nationalism and terrorism were as an inevitable part of our daily life.
As other kids liked Beverly Hills 90210 or soccer, I liked to read the papers. Plural. From as many sides as I could. So that is what I have been doing for the last few weeks. I have tried to stay away from unverified sources, but I have read articles and news from every single serious Spanish newspaper, right and left. I have watched in horror, along with the rest of the world, the images that came from Barcelona on October 1st. But, unlike many international news sources, I tried to look for the context of those images. Not to justify the violence, as violence is never justifiable. But to try to understand them. To try to understand how the hell we got here, to be fearing that on Monday, the Government’s and court’s response to the Unilateral Declaration of Independence for Catalonia will be met with resistance, and wreck havoc in our young democracy.
Although I am not an expert, in the last few days I have been the Spaniard in several groups of Americans, and as such I have gotten plenty of questions about this topic. I hadn’t gotten so many since I was a Basque girl studying in England when the Basque Country was still a heated topic, and many of my European classmates perceived terrorism as some kind of romantic endeavor. Which I had to settle as a wrong perception.
This may be the only way in which I can get the point across about what is going on in my beloved land.
Imagine that, one day, Florida realizes that they are richer than, let’s say, West Virginia. And that they want to keep their own taxes instead of sharing them with poorer states. And, yes, I am aware that the Spanish tax system has nothing to do with the American one, but that is far from the point. Florida decides to organize a referendum to vote for the independence. The Supreme Court declares the referendum illegal, but despite this fact, the governor of Florida decides to go ahead with the referendum, claiming, among other things, that the Constitution is 300 years old, and, since we weren’t around to vote it, it shouldn’t apply to us anymore. And proceeds to organize an illegal referendum with no guarantees, no international institution making sure that it is fair, with a universal census (meaning anyone was able to vote in any polling station), in which people voted more than once, people from outside Florida voted, etc., and in which half of the population didn’t even participate, as they didn’t recognize it as a legal consult. Just imagine for a second that that happens in the US. You are going to have a hard time. But hat is pretty much what happened on October 1st in Catalonia. And the images that we all saw ensued when the police tried to enforce a court order to seize the ballot boxes.
Today, almost a month later, I spent part of my afternoon politely arguing on FB about this. I had tried to stay away from social media arguments, because they often seem pointless. But today I was either particularly bored, or particularly tired of reading lies all over my FB. You see, I tend to like people I don’t necessarily agree with on regarding politics. And that is fine, surrounding yourself only with people who think like you is pretty boring.
But I have had it with reading that Spain is not a democracy. I am seeing that line so many times that it is starting to look like a democrazy. That is plain irresponsible, and false. I was born in 1979, four years after Franco’s death, and one year after the Spanish Constitution, written by politicians of all political parties, was approved by an overwhelming majority of Spaniards who were happy to recover the freedom that they had lost in 1936. It was approved, with a 67.11% of participation, by 88.84% of those who voted. That is a strong majority. And in all the years I lived there, the only oppression I ever felt was coming from the nationalist parties.
To say that a country that, in pretty much 30 years, gave almost complete autonomy to certain regions, including Catalonia, that went from having women need their husband’s permission to travel or accept a job to legalizing divorce and birth control in years, or to be one of the first countries to legalize gay marriage, is a falacy. And a dangerous one at that.
Spain is a country where there is freedom of expression and assembly, where we hold general elections, autonomic (think state) and city elections every four years, where you can demonstrate against anything you want, and say and think whatever you see fit. There are regions, like Catalonia, the Basque Country or Galicia, that have two official languages, Spanish and the regional one. Actually, in Catalonia or the Basque Country it is near to impossible to have your kids attend school in Spanish. So, to claim that anyone is oppressed in Spain and that they don’t have freedom is point blank untrue, and offensive to those who live in countries where those circumstances actually happen. Sadly, there are many.
What the Spanish government is doing, and will do on Monday, throught the appropriate legal channels, and hopefully without having to use force, is to enforce the Constitution. To defend the rights of its citizens, included the good portion of Catalonians who, as today’s demonstration shows, don’t want the independence. And it will do so with the support of the international community, starting with the EU.
I grew up surrounded by nationalism, and violent nationalism at that. For many years, in the Basque Country, only the independentist part of the population seemed to have a right to publicly state their opinion. If you said that you were Basque and Spanish, in a very ironic turn, you were automatically accused of being a “facha”, a fascist, by someone who was showing their own intolerance by were accusing you of it. It would have been surreal, in a way, if it hadn’t been so sad and scary. At the end of the day, nationalisms, all of them, are based in a group of people thinking that they is better than the others. And I will never understand that. I will neither understand why, being able to be part of a bigger entity, one would choose to separate, to create more borders, to build walls around oneself. It doesn’t make any sense to me, but I am a happy child of the vituperated phenomenon known as globalization. I love my countries, both of them, and I love my village, and my region… And I don’t need to insult or exclude anyone in order to proof that.
I just hope that those who disagree right now, can do so while respecting each other.
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