divendres, de novembre 23, 2012

Catalonia tales: 'Spain is like a father forbidding his son from leaving home' (THE GUARDIAN, 23-11-2012)

As Catalonia prepares for a vote which could redraw the map of Spain, Jon Henley goes in search of ordinary people's stories. Here he talks to young people and first-time voters Lots of people here compare Catalonia's relationship with Spain to that of a husband and wife in a marriage that – despite the best efforts of at least one of the parties involved – is simply no longer working. The best solution all round, they suggest, is an amicable divorce. Helena has found a metaphor that speaks more eloquently to her. "Spain is like a strict father forbidding his teenage son from leaving home," she says. "And what's more, he's telling him: 'You must behave as I say, think like this, act like that. And while you're at it, pay me a lot of money to live here.'" One of a bunch of five articulate Catalan 16-year-olds that I met – thanks to the English teacher Anthony Eastwood – at the Barcelona library where they were revising for their exams, Helena feels the region's push for independence is at least as much driven by Spanish intransigence as by Catalan desire. "It feels like they're pushing our culture down," she says. "Trying to get us to be more Spanish. If they weren't doing that, independence maybe wouldn't feel as important." Meanwhile, says her friend Anna, Spain "just refuses to even try to listen or work things out; Catalonia has made all these suggestions and proposals and Spain is just not dealing with the situation at all. Which is crazy, because Spain needs us, economically, and they know that." Anna has her doubts about whether Catalonia will really be better off breaking away from Spain: "It helps us internationally; being a part of Spain should help us deal with being a small market across the world." Another friend, Aleix, says there are "plenty of people who believe independence is not the best solution, who think this is not a good time to be setting up barriers with Spain. It would be much better to reach a mutual understanding, hammer out a good agreement and avoid complete separation." But, points out Aniol, "if Spain really cared about Catalonia's interests, we wouldn't have this problem." (The final member of the gang, Joan, repeats a popular Catalan gag: "If independence was really a bad thing, Spain would give it to us.") At any rate, things have now reached the point of no return. "There's no middle way now," says Aniol. "It has to be yes or no. There can't be a deal; for years we've asked and now we're just fed up." Many of their generation – first-time voters in two years' time – would back independence. "There is a bandwagon," says Helena. "A lot of people our age hadn't really thought about this at all. Now they're suddenly confronted with 'yes or no' – and of course they say yes. I think we need to continue to fight for our rights and aim for independence. But we must realise it isn't the most important thing in the world, and it wont solve all our problems. Our politicians aren't perfect either." On the other side of town a few hours later are a group of first-year international relations students who will be able to vote on Sunday – for the first time in their lives. "I've been 18 for a week," says Pat Rubio, unable to contain her excitement. "What a time to get the vote!" For her, independence is "my dream. I don't feel connected to Spain. To have our own state, to be able to say, I'm Catalan, from Catalonia … It's very hard to change anything in Spain. So independence is a chance to build something really new." Paula Pardo wants a bit more detail. "Yes, I think independence is a good objective," she says. "But it needs to be planned. We need to know not just where we're heading, but what it will look like. A lot more needs to be worked out, carefully, before we jump. Will we land on our feet, or our hands, or our face? I won't be voting pro-independence yet." Jordi Falcon has no such doubts. "I'm on the centre-right, and I used to be anti-independence," he says. "But in the end, you run out of arguments for unity. You get exhausted; you can't keep on defending the indefensible. I think it's best now that we leave Spain and build our own country. It certainly helped that about the time I was reaching that conclusion, I was in Madrid in a taxi, speaking on the phone to my mother – and the driver threw me out of the cab because we were talking Catalan." Nuria Masdeu, a mature student from a long line of Catalan activists (she has relatives who were jailed for the cause), also knows how she will vote. She has trouble these days, she says, writing "Spanish" on forms that ask her nationality. Catalonia, Nuria says, is "not asking for the moon. We just want a referendum. This is supposed to be a democratic country. And you can't plan for everything; you're dealing with emotions here. How soon will independence come? I don't know. But my gran is 93, and she says she's not going till it happens."