Independence for Catalonia!?

Nationalists in Tarragona bull ring

Catalan Nationalists banner in Tarragona

As a referendum about Scottish Independence approaches I thought it would be useful to hear about another region of Europe that wants the same thing, Catalonia wanting to separate from Spain. Here are the ideas of a Catalan from Barcelona.

Michael, here you have my opinion about this issue you asked for after the recent elections of November 25th.

In Madrid the official centralist mass media says that independence is now not possible as CiU (Convergència i Unió, the party of Artur Mas) doesn’t have an absolute majority, but they forget that ¾ of the new Catalan Parliament belong to political parties who support the call for a referendum on self-determination.

ECONOMIC REASONS

The reason why CiU saw its support fall on November 25th is simply because the Catalan people didn’t like the Messiah-like campaign which Artur Mas implemented. And also, of course, because of the very important economic reasons working people have for being angry with the ruling class.

A CERTAIN ‘END-TIMES’ FEELING

The monthly magazine Catalonia Today, in its latest issue of December, says:

“… an end-times feeling has become a common one for many families in Catalonia. Thousands have lost jobs and homes, and what is worse, the hope of replacing their losses in the near future. During the year, the media have been full of financial horror stories about high risk premiums and devaluation by rating agencies, while the financial problems of banks and administrations have become the daily bread of a society increasingly concerned about its future. The great demonstration and general strike on November 14 is just the latest proof of a growing discontent…” (1)

Nowadays, the savage, neo-liberal measures, put in place by the Spanish government of President Mariano Rajoy (PP, Popular Party) have been even reinforced and deeply worsened by the Catalan government of Artur Mas, with the consent of the so-called Catalan socialists (PSC, Partit dels Socialistes de Catalunya).

FIRST CUTS MADE BY ZAPATERO

This PSC, which is federated with the PSOE, is being more discredited now than ever, because everybody knows it has also been responsible for the aggressive cuts initiated by Zapatero years ago. These cuts, being now even greater with the policies of the PP government, allow us to say that the high degree of desperation afflicting the Catalan and Spanish working class is not only due to the global crisis but also – and above all – to the savage and oppressive measures used by the ruling class to confront this crisis.

CiU IS BLATANTLY RULING CLASS

And the CiU is a political party of the ruling class. A very conservative one, using the nationalist feelings of Catalan people in favour of the economic interests of the Catalan capitalists. We must also take into account that the heirs of that Catalan capitalism, which very much helped General Franco during the Civil War of 1936-39, are not all inside the Spanish nationalist right-wing of the PP; they are also inside the Catalan nationalist right-wing of the CiU.

THE POWER OF THE CATALAN MASS MEDIA

Today the power of the media depending in one way or another from the Generalitat (Catalan government) is bigger than ever before… and they are completely biassed and manipulated. The only image of Spain they are selling now in Catalonia is centralism, aggressiveness against Catalonia and not at all sympathetic. Any other Spain, different from this, doesn’t exist in the eyes of the CiU.

For example, the fact that, some weeks ago, the 3rd Spanish political party in terms of numbers of votes, IU (Izquierda Unida – United Left) voted in the Spanish Parliament in favour of self-determination for Catalonia, has been totally ignored by the Catalan media dominated by the CiU. This media are simply clubbish and this Catalan nationalist right-wing is deeply anti-left; they don’t want to even talk about changing proportions in the laws regulating polls, which now are clearly in favour of giving much more advantage to the right-wing parties. So the Catalan left is scarcely represented in the Catalan Parliament and, in any case, less represented than the Spanish left in the Spanish Parliament.

… MAYBE BACK TO SPAIN

In the face of that nightmare very few intellectuals dare to push in the right direction. Professor Vicenç Navarro of the University of Barcelona is one of them. Some of the ideas expressed in this article are also his.

However there are moments of hope, like during the big demonstration on November 14th or some days ago, when the Financial Times considered – on an economic level – an independent Catalonia is possible.

As long as Spaniards don’t treat us, the Catalan people, like brothers and sisters independentist feelings will grow even more and they won’t be able to stop them.

I would propose that, in a near future, if Spain again becomes a People’s Republic of the Workers, established on a basis of freedom and justice for all, then we must call for another referendum, in order to go back again to this new Spain. I feel I’ve more in common with a single jornalero from Andalucia, or an industrial worker from Bilbao, or a fisherman from Galicia than with all the Catalan bankers and bosses together!

Francesc Arnau i Arias, Barcelona, 13/12/2012

To read more about Francesc’s ideas click on the link below (in Catalan)

Des de la finestra

(1) Catalonia Today, No. 0359, December 2012, Annus horribilis, by the editor Marcela Topor.

Although slightly dated (it was written in the 1970s when the issue wasn’t independence but devolution) here is a pamphlet written in opposition to dividing the working class on issues of nationality.

Unity not Devolution

 

Charity is the answer!

Charity from the Catholic Church or asking for other hand-outs is the suggested way out of the crisis in Catalonia, according to a judge. In Britain and the US the answer is in the growing number of ‘Food Banks’ to provide emergency food aid.

Whilst in Catalonia I wrote a number of posts of the direct action that different groups (starting in Andalusia) have been taking in opposition to the austerity measures of the government. These measures were having the effect of forcing some people into such dire circumstances that they couldn’t even afford to feed themselves. The last post on this issue was about the spread of this action to Catalonia, to the town of Villafranca de Penedes.

En route out of the country (in fact, in a bar in Reus thinking it was better to spend an hour there than in the airport) I was able to read about the decision of the court in this last case.

Things moved very quickly as the action took place on the Monday and the case went before a judge on the Wednesday. The person charged was accused of knowingly trying to pay for goods with a card that had no credit. Don’t know enough about Spanish law to say whether that was actually a crime of fraud or whether it falls into another category. Whatever the case she was condemned to pay a fine of €90 (which it was said were the court costs of bringing the case before a judge) plus the cost of the goods taken away (€240.45).

I haven’t been able to find out what the group that made the raid on the supermarket are going to do in the face of this court decision. I would assume that after they had made their point they would pay up, martyrdom at this stage is neither a good political tactic nor worth the suffering, the movement is still in its infancy.

What I want to address here is the statement made by the (female) judge when she laid down the penalty. (Don’t know why I make a point of it being a female judge, perhaps it’s just that as Spanish differentiates between male and female in the language I know it was a woman.)

Anyway, what she said was that it was not for people to take the law into their own hands, however serious might be their situation, as they always had recourse to Caritas (the charity organised by the Catholic Archbishop of Barcelona) or other social services organisation who can help people in extremis.

After reading that I turn over the page of the Diari de Tarragona and read an article about how the Catalan Red Cross had distributed 3,000 cheques (totalling €180,000) to families with an income of less that €500 per month so that their children could go to school reasonably clothed and with the books necessary for their courses.

Must be getting naïve. Came across that situation in Peru after the Fujishock of July 1990 but didn’t realise that it was also a problem in Europe.

One of the points that was made in the article was that the Red Cross would give the cheques (not the cash) to the families who could then use them in stores that had already agreed to accept them. This was supposed to make it seem as if they were not actually receiving charity, so that they could be ‘discreet’ in their poverty. The article didn’t make clear, or I missed it, exactly how big an area this covered, whether it was all of Catalonia or just the Tarragona area but I can only assume that there must be many other thousands of families in similar circumstances throughout the rest of the peninsular.

I’m only back in Liverpool for a couple of days before there’s a piece on the late night Radio 4 Ten O’clock news about ‘Food banks’ in the UK.

It seems that one of these institutions, run by a church, in Ebbw Vale is regularly feeding 1,600 people.

An organisation called the Trussel Trust has 250 Food Banks throughout the country, now already feeding 200,000 and with the coming Benefit ‘Reform’ it is anticipated that there will be a surge in demand.

Then this piece on the radio went to compare the situation here with that in the US. It seems (I wasn’t aware of this before) that Emergency Food Aid was begun in the States in 1967. Now there are more than 60 THOUSAND Food Banks throughout the country which are providing supplementary food to MILLIONS of Americans.

What’s going on here?

Update 10th October 2012.

This article appeared on the Independent Online website.

Crisis-stricken Spaniards turn to Red Cross for help

One o’clock in the morning – La Rambla, Barcelona

The Rambla in Barcelona is considered to be one of the ‘must’ places to visit if you are in the city. Publicity pictures and videos will show you hoards of smiling people, brightly dressed, relaxed as they take in the sun at the same time as they take in all the sights the Rambla has to offer. There are cafés aplenty, the human statues (although they were strangely absent when I was there recently), the smell from the flower stalls half way down, the artists waiting to paint your portrait down at the bottom end. But a different form of tweeting now comes from the part of the Rambla where the bird sellers used to be based, the sale of wild birds having been banned since 2010.

I’ve never thought that walking down this crowded thoroughfare was ever a pleasure. If you don’t look where you are going no one else is going to do so and it is as much fun as walking through a crowded underground station in London at the time of the evening rush hour. It gets busier every year and new technology has made matters worse as it seems even women aren’t able to both talk on a mobile phone and look where they are going at the same time, so what chance men? And there are always the ever-present, always watching, continually vigilant pick-pockets who are sizing up who looks the easiest touch as their next victim.

But some people like the atmosphere and will not be dissuaded from this ritual in a visit to the city, much to the joy of all those whose livelihood, both legal and illegal, depend on the limitless supply of willing victims.

As it gets dark the crowds start to thin out but there are still many people passing up and down this tree-lined avenue. It’s only in the very, very early hours of the morning, when the detritus of the previous day is being cleared away by a small army of street cleaners, that tourists are outnumbered by the locals.

With the change in the light there’s a change in the players. Alcohol becomes a more important component as the night draws on and the atmosphere changes.

Fueled by a few drinks (probably in their hotel room) the only complaint from one member of a small group of Welsh tourists (about 8 of them) that one of the women had stolen a bottle of wine from a small supermarket was that the bottle didn’t have a screw top. The alcohol had made them oblivious to the fact that although in a foreign country there were still likely to be many people who could understand their ‘banter’.

As the hands of the clock indicate that it is now the next day the crowds get thinner, the sellers start to pack up and the piles of rubbish grow at the side of the road. Now there are more groups, both male and female, who have left yet another bar in search of new one, something they’ve been doing since the sun went down. Their sharp wit and clever antics amuse all who are lucky to witness the high level of culture they have brought from their respective countries.

It’s likely they’ve been to one or more of the overpriced, dirty and tacky bars that have appeared in the guide books since I first started visiting Barcelona on a regular basis almost twenty years ago. Unfortunately what was then reasonably priced (or even favourably priced before the introduction of the Euro) is a thing of the past and wherever the extra money has gone it has not been invested in the infrastructure of the bars themselves. Pictures are askew, paper is peeling from the walls and ceilings and the colour scheme was dictated by the nicotine that used to be spread over every surface, static or moving, before the enforcement of the smoking ban.

But if you feel that the wallet has been assaulted by these formal bars yet are still thirsty it’s possible to get a warm beer from informal sellers who stand in the middle of the Rambla, cans of Estrella hanging from the plastic that keeps the cans together before they are wrenched apart with a sale. These sellers might be ‘sin papeles’ (those without a formal right to be in the country) they may not, the economic situation forcing many to look for other ways to make a ‘living’.

Other people with something to sell also come out with the setting of the sun. Some of the streets of the Barrio Chino are lined with women from all parts of Europe and Africa who sell themselves. Whatever they thought when they left their home countries it’s unlikely that this was the trade they would have chosen. As the night gets later they migrate closer to, or even on to, the Rambla. Pimps and minders are never far away and as Dutch courage works on potential clients, and as the thinning crowds make such approaches less intimidating, they start to negotiate the terms and agreements.

Bouncers stand outside empty bars, hardly making them inviting places to enter. How can so many bars exist, even in the best of circumstances? Surely after one o’clock in the morning there are not enough people around to fill them all?

Cans and plastic bottles start to pile up in alcoves seemingly made for the dumping of rubbish. Someone else can pick them up and, so far, the area of the Rambla does appear rubbish free at the start of every day. These may be the workers from the municipality or it could be the scavengers who also appear to be more numerous in the fading light. This doesn’t mean to say that this doesn’t take place during the day time, supermarket trolleys with wonky wheels are ideal for transporting items of no value to some but of potential value to others.

Fresh urine gets added to that which had been matured in the sun of the previous day and there are some streets and alley ways that never seem to be free from the acrid smell, however much the streets might be hosed down.

Of course, all this is not just as a result of tourism and the dependence that many, many cities (and countries) throughout the world have on outside visitors but it doesn’t help. Even in the so-called ‘developed’ countries the negative effects of this business is not so far below the surface.

And as this cycle of events is repeated day after day after day do we really want this to be the sort of future for our young people, either behaving like idiots or pandering to the whims of such.