I am a Catalan Jew. Even though I’ve been based in Chicago for more than a year now—I moved there, of course, for love—I’ve spent most of my life in lively and lovely Barcelona, a city in which antiquity and modernity walk gracefully hand in hand. Even so, work in Barcelona has been scarce and poorly paid since the Spanish financial crisis started in 2008. This ongoing event has contributed to the rise of the Catalan independence movement among other factors. I have witnessed first-hand how independentism went from being marginal to becoming central.
In the past, I defended the idea of Catalonia achieving the maximum level of self-government within Spain. In turn, I had high hopes that Spain would eventually become a federal state. This multinational project would keep Catalonia’s identity intact. This way, Catalonia could be one of Spain’s constituent nations. Spain, however, is a unitary state and intends to remain that way. The Constitution is very complicated to amend—except when the European Union requests it. Although some regions have devolved governments, Spain ultimately seeks to assimilate all the peoples that are not Castilian. This process started in the early eighteenth century with the ascension of the Bourbons to the throne of Spain.
After being annexed by force in 1714, Catalonia has struggled to find a way to remain both Catalan and Spanish. It was not until the 20th century that Catalonia was able to achieve some form of self-government again. In 2006, Catalonia voted in favor of a new Statute of Autonomy to fit comfortably in Spain at last. Four years later, the Constitutional Court of Spain decided to trim the Statute. Catalonia had finally understood that Spain would not change its nature to accommodate Catalonia’s national aspirations and right to self-determination. I have been in favor of Catalan independence ever since. I feel it is the only way that Catalans will continue to exist as a people.
As Catalonia pursues its path towards having its own state, the Spanish government has only intensified their crackdown on the Catalan language, education and economy. They keep using the Constitutional Court to invalidate any law that guarantees Catalan identity and welfare. When Catalonia requests to dialogue to reach an agreement, Spain does not answer. Catalonia has been disproportionately funding the poorer regions of Spain, which benefit from better infrastructures and services. Conversely, this deficit translates into obsolete infrastructures and precarious welfare in Catalonia.
For centuries, the Spanish Inquisition persecuted those who didn’t conform to the religious standard. My ancestors were forced to convert to Christianity or die. After forty years, a fascist government died in 1975 with Franco. Nonetheless, his heirs still hold key positions. The Francisco Franco Foundation gets subsidies from the Spanish government, so it can continue to promote the work of a dictator. I find it outrageous, since Franco ordered the killing of some of my family members. These relatives remained in a mass grave for decades. Finally, ten years ago, a permit was granted to reinter them with dignity. This is just one example of Spain’s Pacto del Olvido (Pact of Forgetting). When it comes to democracy, Spain is still an amateur. Could you imagine Germany funding a Hitler Foundation?
Since 2010, Catalans have been demonstrating peacefully in support of independence in Catalonia and around the world. This year a binding referendum was held on October 1st. That day the world witnessed Spain’s brutality. I was not surprised, because in Spain the unity of the country prevails over democracy. In Catalonia, however, we believe that democracy cannot exist if laws are immutable or unjust. Who wants to live in a country in which riot police are used to prevent people from voting? More than 700,000 votes were confiscated by the Spanish police. Still, Catalonia has spoken with 90 percent of votes favoring independence. The moment is here: Visca Catalunya lliure! Long live Catalonia’s freedom!