Mission Impossible: Crushing the Catalan Spirit

Me and my Spanish hat, hoping Spain and Catalonia will find a way to work things out in peace and mutual respect.

There’s a saying in Catalonia: “Fan més fressa dos que cridin que cent que callin”, meaning that two persons who yell make more noise than ten who remain silent. It’s exactly this combination of no nonsense, wit and courage that makes the Catalans so hard to defeat or beat into submission.

The central government of Spain, usually referred to as “Madrid” has succeeded in fanning the fire of nationalism in almost every Catalan household, by prohibiting their self instigated vote for independence on October 1st. Probably not the most clever move imaginable, because in previous votes there has not been a majority vote for independence, nor was this expected a few weeks ago.

Becoming independent of Spain would mean a huge challenge for Catalonia to renegotiate their economic positions with all the countries they do business with. Not a fun thing to do when you’re just battling your way out of a huge recession. So a lot of Catalan entrepreneurs, shopkeepers and businesses, mainly concentrated in the business metropole of Barcelona, have stayed out of the arena, and just hoped that all the fuss of becoming a fledgling nation would blow over one day.

Madrid, probably out of fear of loosing its richest province, couldn’t muster the same patience. If we don’t crush them now, we’ve lost the battle, they must have thought. And loosing Catalonia is like loosing your capital, it’s just not an option.

Too bad for the Spaniards that the old way of crushing has become more or less useless. They were such masters in force and treachery, think of the way they crushed the Inca Empire in 1532 or the way they lead the infamous Spanish Inquisition for many centuries. No delicate diplomacy or even fair trials, no, just zealous, unflinching persecution.

This merciless approach may have served the Spaniards well in the last few centuries, but in the digital and global age we live in, where all eyes are following everything, it actually backfires on them.

It has gotten to the point that Madrid has decided to send 2200 to 4000 more police officers to Catalonia in the coming week. “To keep the peace.” The practical problem of where these police officers have to stay at night, eat or even use a rest room was a minor glitch Madrid hoped to solve quickly.

This is where the Catalan spirit and solidarity kicked in. Many hotel owners, especially outside of Barcelona, have refused to house the officers. Even the request to the mayor of Palamos if the officers could stay with one of their own cruise ships in the harbor of Palamos was flatly denied. There are only two places for cruise ships in this usually friendly fisherman’s town, but sorry, none of them were available for Madrid. Try again next year.

Three cruise ships hired by Madrid are now lying in the harbors of Barcelona and Tarragona, being ridiculed by the Catalans, because of the graffiti like Loony Tunes decor one of the ships has been blessed with. The police men are now being referred to as Piolín Policia (Tweety cops) and have undoubtedly sparked off many new Catalan jokes.

Knock, knock, who’s there?
Piolin who?
Piolín Policia (in squeaky voice)

Bear in mind that most of the hotel owners who have been brave enough to refuse Madrid’s request, and are in the front line of this grim and possibly bloody conflict, are the same people who were NOT a fan of independence of Catalonia.

Can you imagine what the rest of the Catalans are like?

They would even make minced meat of mean, old Sylvester if they had to.

Part of my family is living and working in Cataluña. My grandmother was from Barcelona, she fled to the Netherlands during the Spanish Civil War, where she married my Dutch grandfather. I now have both Spanish and Dutch relatives living in Cataluña, a region that I have become quite intimate with over the past forty years of my life. I pray that Cataluña will find a way to keep the peace, their sense of humor and their entrepreneurial spirit, because that is truly what these honest and hard working people deserve.

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