I was Catalan, Spanish and European. But Mariano Rajoy has changed all that (Opinion – The Guardian)
Article by Irene Baqué is a Barcelona-born journalist and film-maker
On Sunday, I watched innocent people being beaten up, pulled by their hair and thrown down stairs – just for trying to express their opinion in a ballot – people back home in Catalonia who could easily have been neighbours or school friends. I was glued to my screen for 12 hours with tears in my eyes, sitting in my room in London.
After six years in the UK, I know how it feels to be rejected from the place I now call home, and have learned that separation, borders and flags are rarely the answer. While trying to come to terms with where EU citizens like me sit in the divided country I now live in, a feeling of division is also growing back home.
The division comes from both sides, though. Spain does not want to see Catalonia leave, but it is certainly going about preventing it in the wrong way. Early last week videos appeared of hundreds of people in the south of Spain seeing off police cars leaving for Catalonia to help the central government, shouting “Go get them!”, while waving Spanish flags. It said it all. It felt as though we were back in the Spanish civil war. At a cafe in Madrid, on referendum day, my brother overheard a group of women saying: “These Catalan people just need a couple of slaps to learn they have to stay.”
As the Catalan journalist Jordi Évole said: “Many Catalans had already left Spain mentally. Yesterday Rajoy got a few more. Yesterday many citizens against independence felt a huge repulsion for what they saw.” I’m in that last category – I still don’t think independence is the solution, but I don’t want to be represented by a government that uses military tactics to deal with a dissatisfied region.
Just as many Brits do not feel represented by Theresa May, Mariano Rajoy does not represent all Spaniards – many feel ashamed of their government’s actions against their neighbours. Many took to the streets in Madrid to show solidarity.
What is going through Rajoy’s mind? Was it total incompetence, being caught off guard by a momentum that not even Catalonia’s president, Carles Puigdemont, expected? Or, has Rajoy done the political maths and decided that actually, those women in the cafe in Madrid who think the Catalans deserve a slap to bring them in line are representative of enough of the electorate?
Regardless, Rajoy has turned what should have been just another unofficial poll that went largely unnoticed outside the country into a referendum on having a referendum that has shocked the world. And the answer is a resounding yes.
While almost 900 Catalans bear the wounds of police aggression, the Catalan government is still negotiating what will happen in the next 48 hours, and the king of Spain is yet to be seen.
The People’s party’s deputy leader, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, seemed to have been watching a different TV channel to me when she said: “The policemen were only fulfilling the orders of justice, acting with professionalism and proportionality. The objective of their acts was never the people, but the electoral material.”