REBECCA CLOSE IN SPAIN WRITES...
A list of things that (1) have changed during the Catalonia Independence referendum weeks, followed by a list of things that (2) have not changed
(1) Things that have changed
(i) The use of objects associated with domesticity and private property + (ii) what 10 pm sounds like
Cacerola means stew pot. At 10pm every night leading up to the referendum on October 1 people took their stew pots and banged them with metal spoons. First you would hear a few clangs then the clatter spread. It lasted for around half an hour. It was louder than the cazeloras on Aurora street weeks after the police murdered prominent member of the gay community Juan Andrés Benítez in 2013. It was louder than the cacerola that members of the sex workers union would organize on Robadors street every Wednesday between 2013 – 2014 to protest police harassment and gentrification of the Raval area in the centre of the city.
On the day of the referendum, people gathered across the city and region to celebrate the vote. If you didn’t have a stew pot with you in the street you could use your keys. We were in plaza Cataluña when thousands of people took their keys out and jangled them in the air. We jangled our keys too.
(iii) Who was at the frontline
During the referendum, Spanish police forces – the Guardia Civil – rampaged, broke fingers, sexually assaulted, smashed glass and beat women and the elderly. The brutality of the police was matched by the cunning of the Catalan people performing minor acts of civil disobedience. In Sant Mori the 176 inhabitants sat around eating paella while dozens of Spanish Guardia Civil police surrounded the school where they believed the villagers were going to vote. Sant Mori had already voted at 6am. They offered plates of paella to the police. In Campins near Montseny people cut down trees to stop the passage of riot vans and the Guardia Civil were forced to climb a steep forested hill, where they got lost and were rescued by the people of Campins. In another town, the police broke into a school where they found huge crowds of people playing dominos. “What vote?”, the people asked the police.
It was shocking for many to see bodies exposed to police brutality that might otherwise experience exemption due to the privileges afforded by whiteness and class. And for those who have been attacked by both the Catalan police force – the Mossos d'Esquadra – and the Spanish Guardia Civil there was hope that in the visibility of police violence that this referendum has afforded, new alliances may de forged.
(2) Things that have not changed
(i) The volume of nationalisms
The hope that this referendum may produce new alliances dipped during a Catalonia wide strike on Tuesday 3 October, when critique of police brutality was drowned out by the noise of the Catalan flags draping the shoulders of the property owning classes. Teenagers sang hymns to the local police forces. According to the emerging narrative, the Mossos d'Esquadra are peaceful, heroic, nice etc. in comparison to the brutal Spanish Guardia Civil.
On Sunday 8 October 400,000 people arrived to march in Barcelona against the referendum. Spanish flags filled the streets where Catalan flags had. A day later a Madrid politician Pablo Casado threatened to assassinate a Catalan politician in a chilling speech that made reference to the assassination of the Leader of the Republican Left Lluís Campanys in 1940, a case which was foundational in the establishment of the Franco Dictatorship (1939-1975).
Independence was declared officially in the Catalan parliament on Tuesday 10 October by Puigdemont and then suspended in the next breath. With politicians seeking to make plans concrete, comparisons are now being drawn with Slovenia, whose independence from Yugoslavia was announced in 1989 then suspended and proceeded to unfold over a year that included a 10 day armed conflict that resulted in increased international support for Slovenia. While the suspension of Catalan Independence by leader Puigdemont disappointed many, it is possible that the comparisons with Slovenia mean the suspension may itself be tactical, and will allow Puigdemont to use the time to gain more international support. It is also possible that the right wing politician was always using the promise of independence as a tool in party politics. The fact that conservative right wing Slovenian politician Dimitrij Rupel currently advises the process as the head of the group of international observers in Catalonia is another clue to voters that the state they are willing into being is far from the anti-fascist, socialist utopia it is being sold as.
On Monday 9 October activist and academic Angela Davis visited Barcelona and spoke on the value of considering “resistance” over “revolution”. In a shocking example of historical amnesia, the Catalan cultural critic introducing Davis to a packed auditorium compared the Catalan Independence struggle to Black and African American resistance movements in the United States. Davis responded at the end of her speech, it depends what kind of independence you want, I think you still have a lot of difficult questions to ask.
For many, the strike on Tuesday 3 October was a day to remember and celebrate the lives of people wrongly accused, beaten up and murdered by police in Cataluña. Mohamed Abagui who was 22 in 2010, Jonathan Syzalima who was 20 in 2009 and Idrissa Diallo who was 21 in 2012, who all died in police custody. The poet Patricia Heras, whose wrongful arrest and conviction for harming a police officer led to a 5 year sentence and her suicide in 2011.
Bandera means flag. I slip between bandera and band. Flags and bands. Banda means gang or brass band. Bandera means flag. I mean music band. Or pop group. Nationalisms and noise and gangs.
Rebecca Close was born in London and is an artist, researcher, poet and translator based between London and Barcelona. She studied Philosophy at Manchester University and has a Master’s Degree in Spanish Philology. Her forthcoming new media publication Reinscriptions, co-produced with Anyely Marín, won the Miquel Casablancas Prize for Visual Arts (2017). Her poems have appeared recently in datableedzine, Ambit, Magma and Lemony Lemons.