From top: Protest in Catalonia; Tony Groves
The little girl was not impressed. I couldn’t understand what she was saying, but I knew she was annoyed. Why wouldn’t she be, no one likes to be the impromptu party piece at a party you don’t want to be at.
Her parents, and her uncle, were cajoling her. Her father explained to me that she had just returned from two weeks in London and that she had really good English. The girl’s face was half pride, half outrage.
“Talk to our guests” said her mother. Finally, and not with a little defiance, she stepped forward; a tiny little thing, all brown hair and big brown eyes.
“Hello”, I said, with a big eejit grin on my face, thinking that might de-escalate the situation. She didn’t reply. Her parents commanded her “Talk!”
“I know one sentence in English” she said, almost tentatively. Everyone went quiet, a mix of relief and interest. A room of about ten adults turned to watch the little girl. She looked me straight in the eye and seemed to grow about six inches.
“Catalunya Is Not Spain”, she declared.
That was nearly 15 years ago and I couldn’t help thinking of that trip to L’Escala yesterday as I watched the scenes unfold on the streets of the city that I love and think of as my second home.
I have made many friends in the region of Catalunya over the last two decades. Many of them have different views on the secessionist question. All of them agreed that they had the right to vote and express those views.
The Spanish Constitution deemed them criminals. Prime Minister Rajoy hid behind lawyers and legalese. Our leaders, here in Ireland and across the EU, fell silent.
We have a Taoiseach who comments on LCD Soundsystem, but not on the violent suppression of the democratic will of a nascent nation. The EU has limped from the financial crisis, to force feeding austerity, to Brexit and now to looking the other way when stuff, that we criticise Middle Eastern dictators for, happens on the streets of one of the great cities of our Union.
Yesterday, whatever your views, shames us all.
Catalonia has many justifiable reasons to be aggrieved, culturally and economically. Their symbol, in the land of the Bull (Torro), is that of of the Ass (Catalan Donkey). Their sense of oppression is both historic and contemporary.
I am not in favour of Catalonia seceding from Spain, much to the chagrin of my friends. But I fully support their right to decide. Yesterday, friends of mine tried 3 times to vote. They did so eventually, defiantly. I cannot say how many were dissuaded by the brutal acts of police violence.
A friend of mine, who felt fearful of posting some of the images that she was witnessing, WhatsApp’d me throughout the day. I posted many of these to twitter. Some of them have gone across the world; one has been viewed 500k times from my tweet alone.
People saw what happened on the 1st of October 2017. My friend did that.
Another group of friends stood in front of a voting station until the early hours of the morning, afraid that if they left, the police would take the ballot boxes and the votes cast by those who braved the gauntlet would be lost to an Authoritarian Crackdown.
Another story came back to me as well, yesterday. When my Catalan friends were in Dublin a few years back, we all drove up to Glendalough for a day’s hiking. In typical fashion, they were freezing, wrapped in jackets and scarves, while I was basking shorts and a t-shirt. The glorious Irish summer.
As we climbed towards the Poulanass Waterfall we heard a group of Spanish people making their way down. The familiar buzz of voices, a backing track to so many Dublin Bus journeys in the summer months.
As the groups met a few words were politely exchanged. My understanding, a bit better by then, was that pleasantries were exchanged and generalities mentioned. Then, among the Spanish group, a young man asked “Madridista?” – a blunt inquiry as to if you are from Madrid?
“No”, came the reply. “I am a Catalan.” The groups went quiet. The young Spanish man (instinctively?) spat on the ground and we all walked off our separate ways.
I am a Catalan; the very same reply went back to the Madridistas yesterday. It was proclaimed from Figueres down to Tortosa. There’s no putting this toothpaste back in the tube. Madrid can pretend it didn’t happen. But the world saw. On the 1st of October 2017, the world heard the same thing Pablo Casals told the UN in October, 1971, “I am a Catalan”.
And I’m proud to be their friend.
Tony Groves is a full-time financial consultant and part-time commentator. With over 18 years experience in the financial industry and a keen interest in politics, history and “being ornery”, he has published one book and writes regularly at Trickstersworld