The location of our Girona apartment made it difficult to ignore the Catalonian independence movement. It came along just like the Cathedral bells and the tourist train. The steps of the Cathedral of Saint Mary of Girona are a perfect place to gather. The largest independence rally was held on those steps on the National Day of Catalan. Other demonstrations passed by right below our windows.
What became clear in our discussions with locals was that all of the issues had been boiled down to one. “The Spanish government won’t let us vote!” By declaring the vote illegal and promising to stop it by any means necessary the government had effectively inflamed passions. It had also handed the leaders of the independence movement a powerful organizing tool.
“Never organize the opposition!” is one of the cardinal rules of political activism. Not following that rule is a recipe for a very hard fought win, or defeat. When you tell a proud people their hopes, dreams, and aspirations are illegal expect fierce resistance!
It doesn’t matter if the boot on your neck belongs to a communist, or a capitalist. When authoritarians demand strict compliance to their decrees people will eventually resist. There has never been a better rallying cry than the one Mel Gibson bellowed in Braveheart. “Freedom!” has staying power.
In Girona the rallying cry was, “Votarem! Votarem!” “We will vote! We will vote!” Every rally ended with that vow of determination. Before the rallying cry there were brief speeches, and lots of sing-alongs. It was difficult not to get caught up in the emotions. I stood at the edge of the crowd singing a chorus and clapping rhythmically. Unbidden my eyes welled up with tears. I looked over to Donna and her eyes were brimming too.
What were the specifics of the cause? “We just want to vote! That is all! To vote!!!” Under that desire there were other sentiments. “We are not Spain!” “We have always been more French!” “The government takes more than it returns!” “There are too many scandals and corrupt governors! We are tired of subsidizing corruption!!!”
What would a new Catalonian State look like? Would the European Union recognize that new state? On the street and in the cafes these questions didn’t have clear answers. The discussion always came back to, “We vote to be free!”
On October 1st the national police stormed voting stations to confiscate voting materials. They were met with fierce resistance. At last count 800 Catalans were injured in the frays that broke out across the region. Despite efforts to shut down the vote people voted when and where they could.
By early Monday Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont, was declaring victory. There are 5.3 million registered voters in the region. 2.26 million votes had been counted. 90% of those favored independence. Other ballots had been confiscated by the police. Catalan officials promised to use these results to unilaterally declare independence. The Spanish government is suggesting negotiations.
We watched the news from Valencia and recalled the chants that filled the air beneath our balcony in Girona. “Votarem! Votarem!” We were heading for Seville, but wished there was time for one more Gin & Tonic at Nykteri’s. The owner of Girona’s acclaimed bar mixes drinks with passion. She discusses politics in the same manner! “We vote to be free!!!”