Events Sunday in Barcelona filled me with sadness. Hundreds of foreign correspondents, who had been looking forward to a long day of calmly strolling down one of the nicest cities in Europe, had to endure the sad spectacle of police beating people in schools: hundreds reported bruises and inconveniences of various kinds, an old lady may have fallen down the stairs, a younger lady is telling everyone that some evil policeman twisted her fingers just for the fun of it and at least two people were sent to hospital in serious condition. Luckily, they are almost certainly out of it by now.
It’s all the sadder since it actually was a pretty nice day with warm weather, and God knows correspondents based in northern European cities like Brussels and London appreciate the chance to seeing the sun and having some time to enjoy the deservedly-well-known Catalan cuisine. The same goes for the over 50 million foreigners who visit Spain annually, many if not most passing through Barcelona, to take their mind off the worries and technocratic blandness of the places where they make their money, cities like Singapore, Beijing or New York. These people want to see a true European experience like the ones they have in Woody Allen movies, with picturesque sights, the right amount of diversity on the streets, good-looking Spanish girls with an accent; they want to relax on terrazas to ponder on the Mediterranean lifestyle and how nice of Europeans is to preserve their continent as a gigantic open-air museum of civilization for everyone else to enjoy. To all those inconvenienced foreigners, I say: I’m sorry we spoiled your vacation.
Nobody wants to see locals arguing in their confusing tongues about issues everyone else doesn’t really understand and totally doesn’t care about. That’s actually one of the reasons why the 5-year Catalan push for independence got pretty mediocre press overseas before: as far as foreigners were concerned, those people with their funny-looking flags, polite as they were (hey, it’s Europe, right?) were a bit bothersome, as they added an element of randomness and reality one doesn’t really appreciate during a short vacation with just enough time to see Gaudi’s masterpieces and spend an afternoon in the Nou Camp.
Now, it’s Spanish police getting the worst rap. See those pictures: people calmly, determinedly looking to vote in a referendum, using their grandmas and their 10-year old kids as human shields, and police actually responded. Police actually followed the orders set by Spanish courts, which were: stop this vote which has been deemed illegal, as it was convened under false pretences, with blatantly illegal steps, violating not only Spanish law but also specific Catalan regulations that set the parliament majority for changing the board of the local TV network at two thirds of the vote: more than the separatists had to go ahead and declare independence.
I know foreigners don’t really give a shit about all these technicalities. I mean, you may give a shit today and maybe tomorrow, as long as the pictures are still in your social media feeds, but you foreign friends will forget about these disputes on legality and regulation next week. It will become vague and complicated and not worth your time soon, that’s the way it is no matter how dedicated and concerned a global citizen you are. I mean, there’s always tomorrow’s news and the Islamic state murdered two people in Marseilles, up the coast from Barcelona, Sunday (did you know that? That’s two more killed than in Barcelona, despite all the pictures, and the provocations and the Belgian prime minister whining on Twitter); as I write this, there are reports of over 50 killed in Vegas, which will surely put the media focus where it rightly belongs 24/7: Donald Trump.
You see, I’ve known a correspondent for a major US newspaper who wrote for years about Catalonia’s push for independence, without knowing about the concept of Paisos Catalans, which is much the same as having a correspondent writing about the US South without knowing about the existence of the Mason-Dixon line, or the Confederacy. Just mind-boggling. And these are the guys actually based in Spain. There’s nothing I can say about the byline parachute guys, like Paul Mason, who don’t even know shit about their own country.
Listen: this is not a diss on correspondents. I myself am one. And I’m one of the dedicated ones. You know, I’m one of those who actually read books to inform myself about the countries where I’ve reported. And I can boast of having written about Malaysian politics even though I just read like three books about Malaysia in my whole life. But worse: I’ve written extensively about Indonesia, and I don’t think I ever read a book about Indonesia apart from Beyond Belief of VS Naipaul, which is a quirky travelogue written by a chap who doesn’t really like Indonesia much. I’m as guilty of this stuff as anyone else.
Now, you got lucky today and you got an actual Spaniard who has read tons of books about his country and spoken to tons of experts. You got here a guy who actually grew up in Barcelona, whose father is from there, and whose mother is from Madrid. What are the odds of that? I’m actually right in the middle of this divide, you see, and this is my very short message about the Catalonian conflict:
Your opinion doesn’t matter, my foreign friend. Not at all. That’s because you have no skin in the game. If shit gets bad, it will never be your kids who die on a battlefield: it will be my kids. And I have two, who I wouldn’t like to see die before their time. I’m sentimental that way. The opinion of the Catalans matters very much, but also that of the rest of Spaniards, because if Spain starts to break it will be worse than Yugoslavia. I’ve seen people there, in Ukraine and in Syria saying: we never thought it would end up like this. Well, I do. Catalan nationalists only want independence as a stepping stone to taking over chunks of their liking from the rest of Spain, as you saw in that Wikipedia link I gave you. Does you media policy tell you that Wikipedia is unreliable (as opposed to CNN…? Ha, ha, correspondent joke here, sorry)? OK, go the source, where the largest Catalan party ERC spells it out in its own fucking webpage: don’t be shy and use Google Translate to get over the huge barrier presented by the use of the Catalan language. And don’t even get me started on the effects Catalan independence will have on the Basque Country.
Now, 38% of the Catalan census voted yesterday for independence, in a referendum that was sloppier than a vote for team captain in my neighbourhood football club. That’s 2 million votes in a country of 46 million people. Are we, the rest if Spaniards, supposed to just sit back and let them do as they wish just because people may get hurt otherwise, and complain on CNN? You think that was a Bloody Sunday? If Spain goes to shit, that will be less than nothing compared to what’s coming. I know you like Europe to be nice and friendly for tourists, but we have history and we have problems and sometimes we have to get rough so that this pretty country you appreciate during your visits stays nice and friendly, and doesn’t turn into a collection of Kosovos. When was the last time you visited Kosovo? Yeah, I thought so.