Welcome everyone Sandra in Spain - FlamencoI’m Sandra Piddock, and I’m a freelance writer, dividing my time between Spain and the UK. I’ll write about anything that interests and/or challenges me, and I like to focus on the lighter side of life whenever possible.. Read more
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The Catalonia Question

I don’t live in Catalonia, and I’m not politically minded, but I do feel for the people who live there who feel they’re getting a bad deal from Spain. I sympathise with a lot of the arguments, and I have good friends who are passionate on this. When I feel I have something relevant to say, or they have something that needs a wider audience, it will appear here.

Catalonia Calling! A great new YouTube channel from Simon Harris

Simon Harris - author, property finder, musician and advocate for Catalan independence

Simon Harris – author, property finder, musician and advocate for Catalan independence

When I first came to Spain on holiday back in the 1960s when the planes still had outside toilets, we holidayed on the Costa Brava. When I met my husband Tony, I returned there, after a gap of more than 30 years, and fell in love with the area all over again. 14 year old me was more interested in getting Brahms and Liszt on Bacardi and Coke, chatting up the waiters and getting a suntan, but by the age of forty-something, I was interested in what made the area and the people so vibrant and unique.

On a trip to Tossa de Mar, we met Luis, the owner of Bar Esclop near the ruins of the Roman villa. He was clearly Catalan, but spoke English in a broad Lancashire accent, as the result of a misspent youth in Manchester. He told jokes, acted silly for Tony’s grandchildren – and opened my eyes to the Catalonia Question. Fast forward another 15 years, and I ‘met’ Simon Harris, through my Writers On Spain Facebook group. Simon was just writing his book Catalonia is Not Spain: A Historical Perspective, and he was ‘blogging the book’ by publishing a chapter at a time, and using the followers on his blog and the group as a sounding board for ideas and critiques. When he set up a crowd funding project to publish the book, a lot of us chipped in too, so my involvement in Catalan culture and politics has grown over the last couple of years or so.

Simon isn’t one to rest on his laurels, and he’s now working on a biography of Catalan President Artur Mas, as well as setting up a YouTube video channel – Catalonia Calling! – which is basically a weekly digest on Catalan and Spanish news. Basically, it’s bite-sized Catalonia, delivered with Simon’s trademark wit and insight. If you object to phrases like ‘arse lickers’ and the like, you might have a bit of a problem, because Simon tells it as he sees it, and he funked the tact and diplomacy workshop. However, if you want to get a grasp on life and politics in Catalonia, learn a bit about the culture and have a few laughs at the same time, you will love this channel.

The latest episode – Number 11 – is Simon’s assessment of the Catalan candidates in the forthcoming Spanish General Election. Here’s a word for the wise – don’t try to watch this and have a drink at the same time, because your keyboard will suffer! Episode 10 is longer than usual at around 30 minutes running time, but it’s a really interesting overview of Independence and Social Change in Catalonia. Here’s what Simon has to say about it:

I’m in London this week to give a talk to the Basque and Catalan societies entitled “Independence and Social Change” so I’ve decided to make that the subject of this week’s Catalonia Calling #10.

As the remit of Independence and Social Change is so broad, I’ve decided to focus on some of the reasons why I think independence is necessary for Catalonia and then I’ll look at some of the elements included in the road map for independence and also the key clauses in the recent Declaration of the Beginning of the Independence Process.

The list isn’t exhaustive and the idea is to give key information for those of you who don’t follow what’s happening in Catalonia very closely and stimulate discussion from those who do.

Don’t just take my word for it though – head over to Simon’s channel and check it all out for yourself.


Catalonia is like – nowhere and everywhere!

Artur Mas being interviewed in Barcelona by CNBC

Artur Mas being interviewed in Barcelona by CNBC

Earlier this week, Catalan President Artur Mas gave an interview to CNBC in which he compared an independent Catalonia to Denmark or Austria, based on economic performance. Mas pointed out that both countries had similar populations to Catalonia, and were at a similar stage of economic growth. This has understandably spawned much debate, including this article, which statistically compares Catalonia with various established countries in Europe.

The article states that ‘Since the Scottish referendum, President Mas has sought to align himself with other, more established nations,’ and then goes on to make comparisons with different nations on topics such as population, education, national and per capita GDP and tourism. The numbers make interesting reading, and overall show Catalonia as being in a favourable position to take its place as an independent nation in Europe.

However, I feel the article has missed two important points here. First of all, I don’t believe Artur Mas has sought to align himself – or Catalonia – with any nations, established or otherwise.  But as soon as he says ‘Catalonia is like …’ he is engendering debate, sending the number crunchers scurrying to come up with supporting or refuting statistics, and generally pushing the Catalan Question to the forefront of the international news media. It’s a very clever strategy – and exactly the sort of thing you’d expect from such a competent statesmen who is also an astute Catalan.

And that brings me to the second missed point here. Catalonia is like no other nation or state – like it’s people, it is delightfully individual and eccentric, and in that respect, it’s like nowhere. Yet it is such a friendly, inclusive place, welcoming people from all over the world, and adopting them as Catalans when they embrace the culture and language, and Catalonia inevitably enters their very souls.

According to the latest figures from Idescat, the Statistical Institute of Catalonia, more than I million of Catalonia’s 7.5 million population hail from other corners of the world. So, with all these international influences,  combined with the characteristic welcoming nature of its people, Catalonia is like everywhere!

Where else, except Catalonia, could Nottingham-born historian, author and musician Simon Harris become so entwined in Catalan fortunes that he is now a recognised and respected pundit on all matters Catalan? When national and international media want balanced views on the Catalan Question, they turn to Simon, or people like him, who are not Catalan born, but have a clear understanding of the issues involved in the independence debate, and a thorough knowledge of Catalonia and its strengths and weaknesses.

While opponents of independence may call the Catalans dreamers for believing that Catalonia can exist as a nation state without the support of Spain, foreign-born Catalans are more likely to get a hearing, particularly on the international stage. In fact it’s precisely because so many ‘adopted Catalans’ are advocating independence that there is so much continuing international interest in the debate.

So, Catalonia has many similarities with other nations in Europe. Disposable income is on a par with Sweden, Denmark and the UK, education is of an excellent standard, comparable with France and Switzerland, and only London, Paris and Rome attract more international tourists than the 8.4 million who visit Barcelona each year. That’s impressive for a city that isn’t even a capital – yet.

Catalonia, though, is a nation like no other, and it can be a nation state like no other, if and when it achieves independence from Spain. This individuality, combined with the inbuilt pragmatism of the Catalan people – particularly its President Artur Mas – will enable an independent Catalonia to take its rightful place as a prosperous and successful nation in Europe.

Image source: Artur Mas Facebook Page

El Punt Avui Television’s English Hour – Our Finest Hour, broadcast 20 November 2014

Simon, circa 1990.

Simon, circa 1990.

Being a writer, you get to meet some interesting people, and if you’re lucky, some of them might even become good friends. Writers can be very interesting people, because very often they don’t just write – there’s a lot more to them than that. Without exception, the writers I’ve interviewed for author profiles and reviews have led varied lives, and one of the most versatile writers I know is Simon Harris.

In his time, Simon has been an English teacher, musician, property finder, author – and now I can say one of my friends is a media star, because he’s recently appeared on El Punt Avui Television’s English Hour with Matthew Tree, Roger Evans and Brett Hetherington. The link will take you to the recording. In the 50 minute programme, several topics were covered, including parenting, music, and of course, the big topic – Catalan independence. With the guests coming from Nottingham, Australia and New York, it was a truly international perspective on the Catalan debate, and it’s interesting to see how people from other countries view events.

Simon has lived in Barceona since 1988, and he received a very personal induction into Catalan culture from his wife’s great aunt. Despite being sympathetic to the Catalan cause, and wishing for more autonomy, Simon always believed that Catalonia was better off as part of Spain. However, events over the last few years, when the Partido Popular Spanish central government has blocked all attempts by Catalonia to devolve more powers of autonomy and receive more government investment in infrastructure, have contributed to a change of opinion. And this is a scenario that’s being repeated all over Catalonia, Spain and the wider international stage, as the world wakes up to what’s really going on in Catalonia.

Roger Evans is more in favour of Catalan self-determination rather than outright independence, but all the speakers agreed that Catalonia deserved to have more say in how it was governed, and that its people should have the chance to vote in a binding referendum, having shown overwhelmingly in the 9N participatory process that they wanted a Catalan state that was independent of Spain.

Simon’s book Catalonia Is Not Spain: A Historical Perspective is his attempt to tell the story of Catalan history and present the case for independence in ‘a non-grumbling way.’ There is a tendency among some Catalan commentors to look back to the past, and focus on the wrongs suffered by Catalonia and its people, rather than looking forward to a future where Catalonia is more involved in its own government, and free from the obligation to prop up poorer areas of Spain via it’s disproportionate contribution to the national budget.

What was clear from the programme is that the guests all felt, in their own ways, that Catalonia and its people have been badly treated by Spain and it’s various governments for centuries. There was also condemnation of the smear campaign and downright lies that have appeared in the right wing Spanish press. In the most shocking example, one journalist claimed that people were able to vote more than once, while Catalans who quite naturally had allowed their children to post their ballot paper while they photographed the historic comment were accused of allowing those children to vote in the participatory process.

Brett compared it to the ‘Dingo Baby’ scandal in Australia during the 1980s, when Lindy Chamberlain was vilified by the media. In another fitting comparison, he described Mariano Rajoy’s ‘Ignore it and it will go away’ attitude to the Catalan Question as being on a par with Australian PM Tony Abbot’s denial of global warming. Good to know that Rajoy isn’t the only serving PM suffering from  Acute Reality Bypass Syndrome.

However it is finally answered, the Catalan Question will continue,to make the headlines for years to come. My own feeling is that the people will get tired of being ignored by Madrid and declare unilateral independence from Madrid within the next couple of years. Programmes like this one help to spread the real truth about what’s going on in Catalonia, and counter the negativity and false information that are being disseminated by certain elements of society and the media. If you want to become better informed of the real situation, there are two things you can do to get a good handle on what’s really happening in Catalonia – read Simon’s book and watch this informative and entertaining programme.

Photo credit: Simon Harris

Never mind the percentages – look at the people who turned out to vote!

Catalans queuing to vote in Sant Andreu, Barcelona. Photo courtesy of Simon Harris

Catalans queuing to vote in Sant Andreu, Barcelona. Photo courtesy of Simon Harris

Reading through the international reporting on New 9N – the Catalan independence referendum that wasn’t but was, because the people willed it so – it’s immediately obvious that people are taking the percentages of people who voted as an indication that the Catalan people don’t want to separate from Spain. It’s total twaddle of course – more than 80% of the 2.35 million people who queued to have their voice heard voted Si-Si. That’s yes to Catalonia becoming a state, and yes again to that state being independent from Spain, and the figures are likely to rise because the poll is still open.

To put the figures in perspective, the Si-Si voters acount for around 40% of those eligible to vote in New 9N, and around one third of the population of Catalonia. Impressive figures, you have to agree, but it wouldn’t be Catalan reporting without a side order of negativity, and, since the polling was well organised and the atmosphere was electric but trouble free, the negativity focuses on the almost 60% that haven’t voted rather than the impressive Si-Si vote.

I’m not Catalan – although like my friend  Simon Harris, I’m sure I would be an adopted Catalan if I ever moved to Barcelona. I’ve felt an affinity with these gregarious, fun-loving, generous people ever since I first went to the Costa Brava as a boy mad, football crazy 14 year old on holiday.

Okay, I first fell in love with the Catalan people because the rather gorgeous barman was happy to serve me with Bacardis and Coke until I fell off the bar stool, so it had nothing to do with fellow feeling, it was more like gratitude for being given the opportunity to get drunk while admiring the view. However, repeated visits to the  region over the next five decades have only served to reinforce that juvenile first impression that the Catalan people are my kind of people.

That’s why as I saw the pictures and videos on Sunday of the queues of people waiting patiently to finally use their right to decide, I filled up on more than one occasion. Forget percentages, forget the numbers, forget the negative attitude that ‘60% didn’t vote.’ The words will fade from memory, but the image of those snaking queues of Catalans will probably stay with me for ever. And it’s made a big impression around the world too. It’s a powerful antidote to negativity that tells the world that it’s time for Catalonia to make its own way in the world, independently of Spain.

Mariano Rajoy – the Wimpy Kid running to the Constitutional Court

The flag of Catalonia

The flag of Catalonia

When some friends of ours came out to Spain during the summer, their son was in the grip of a passion for the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, and he brought several books with him to while away the hours in the shade of the palm tree in their garden. I got a look at some of them, and I have to say they are well written, as well as being very observant and very funny. However, I’m not laughing now, because it would seem Spain has its very own Wimpy Kid, in the person of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. He keeps running to the Constitutional Court, because those nasty Catalans are upsetting him again, but he isn’t willing to actually work with them to resolve their differences.

The big problem with Greg Heffley – the eponymous Wimpy Kid – is that he has very few talents, even fewer friends, nothing is ever his fault, and he’ll never admit to being wrong. He’ll always look for the easy way out of anything, and is very reluctant to actually work at finding a solution to a problem. In fact, on most occasions he is the problem! Does that sound familiar? Can you think of anyone else who fits that description? Or is it  just me that pictures the Wimpy Kid every time I see Rajoy posturing and blustering?

Another of the Wimpy Kid’s character flaws is that he never plays by the rules, preferring to take the path that suits his purposes best, and for good measure  projecting his own faults onto the scapegoats he chooses to vilify. It might have escaped your notice, but this is also how Rajoy operates.

Why else would he call the pro independence advocates, and particularly Catalan President Artur Mas, ‘undemocratic?’ Because that is the basis for the appeal to the Constitutional Court against the Catalan regional referendum law and the decree signed by Mas. Maybe Senor Rajoy has had a secret irony bypass, because he doesn’t seem to think the description applies to himself and his government.

It is certainly undemocratic  to appeal against a law which has been formulated in full compliance with the  Statute of Autonomy of Catal0nia, and to criminalise members of government and civil servants should they press ahead with their perfectly legal non-binding referendum on  9 November, 2014. Under the powers of the Statute, which was reformed in 2005/2006 to expand the self-governing powers of the Gerenelitat de Catalunya, the regional referendum law and the decree signed by Mas are both legal and constitutional. Although the reformed statute was dismissed in 2010, the earlier 1979 statute grants the Catalan government the powers to carry out various functions of self-government exclusively in and for Catalonia, therefore the referendum is perfectly legal under the terms of the Statute.

Rajoy states that the appeal is based on the fact that the referendum is not compatible with the Spanish Constitution, since decisions that affect all Spaniards must be voted on by all Spaniards. However, the referendum is non-binding and is intended to gauge the opinions of the Catalan people as to whether they wish Catalonia to become a state as opposed to an autonomous region, and whether they wish that state to be independent from Spain.

That decision does not affect all Spaniards, since the referendum was never intended to produce a definitive, actionable ‘Yes’ or No’ answer. So there is no just cause for denying the Catalan people their right to choose – and that is what the referendum has always been about. Initially, it’s about the right to choose, rather than the right to decide. However they are being denied that basic constitutional right.

Interestingly, when the Statute of Autonomy was reformed in 2006, Rajoy’s Partido Popular (PP) condemned it as unconstitutional, so maybe it should be no surprise that they are levelling the same accusation at the law which made the referendum possible.

Sensibly, Artur Mas decided against defying the Constitutional Court and the Spanish government, and on 14 October announced that the vote would go ahead on 9 November, but that it would be a public participatory process. The polling stations will be manned by volunteers – 40,000 at the current estimate – and people will vote by turning up on the day, rather than registering. Some detractors call it an ‘opinion poll,’ and in one way it is, but it’s also a public demonstration of determination to have the Catalan voice heard.

Now, the Spanish government has lodged a new appeal against the alternative vote, asking the Constitutional Court to suspend the vote. That’s a pretty strong action against an ‘opinion poll,’ and it demonstrates another Wimpy Kid character flaw – the need for everything to be perfect, and just as he decrees it should be. Again, Rajoy exhibits this characteristic, because if the participatory process is toothless, why try to shut it down? Because Rajoy and his government have decided that the perfect solution is to ignore the wishes of the Catalan people and silence their protests. Then the Catalan question will go away, and Spain will get to keep Catalonia and its assets.

Like the Wimpy Kid, Rajoy is riding for a fall, because the Catalan question will not go away. Catalan voices will speak and be heard on 9 November, and there will be no more ignoring, since international opinion is swinging in favour of Catalonia. If the vote is as expected, it will reveal that the majority of Catalans are in favour of an independent state which will remain in Europe. If that is the case, there will be pressure on Rajoy and his government to respect that vote and work towards Catalan independence. Then Spain’s very own Wimpy Kid may be forced to grow up, man up, and take responsibility for his actions.

Image credit: Pixabay.com

Why the Catalonia Question?

My friend, writer and mentor on all things Catalan Simon Harris. A selfie taken on Diada, when he joined 1.8 million others in a peaceful demonstration in Barcelona

My friend, writer and mentor on all things Catalan Simon Harris. A selfie taken on Diada, when he joined 1.8 million others in a peaceful demonstration in Barcelona

You’re probably wondering why this category is on the blog. After all, I’m English, not Catalan, and I live on the Costa Blanca. Okay, I’ve spent holidays in Malgrat, Tossa de Mar, L’Estartit and even – though I hate to admit it – Lloret de Mar. But I have a good excuse reason for that – my parents took me when I was too young to refuse to go! And Barcelona is my favourite city in the world. but still none of this explains my interest in Catalonia, and of course the big question, which is whether it should be independent from Spain or not.

When we used to holiday on the Costa  Brava, we spent a lot of time in Bar L’Esclop, in Tossa de Mar. It was run by Luis, a Catalan who learned English in Manchester and spoke with a thick northern accent. It was from him that we first learned about Catalonia’s problems with Spain, and although we found him interesting to talk to, most of the stuff he told us was swirling around with the gin and tonic, so we didn’t really process it properly.

More recently, I’ve got to know Simon Harris, a Nottingham lad who has lived in Barcelona for almost 30 years now. He’s been sharing the draft chapters of his latest book Catelonia Is Not Spain – A Historical Perspective with a Facebook writers’ group I run, and he writes with such knowledge and passion, you can’t help but be drawn into the Catalan Question. And when I Skyped Simon for an author profile I was writing for Insiders Abroad, I was fascinated to learn all about his life in Barcelona, and how he came to be accepted as a Catalan, even though he was born in Nottingham.

For me, that was what really struck a chord – that a nation who are so warm, welcoming and inclusive are being treated like rabble-rousing separatists by the Spanish central government, and having all their requests for fair treatment ignored. And it really got to me when I read the press reports on Diada – Catalonia’s national day on 11 September. 1.8 million people turned out in a peaceful protest to demand that the vote on Catalan Independence scheduled for November 9 2014 be allowed to proceed. No violence, no arrests, but from some of the negative reporting, you’d think those nasty Catalans had tried to burn Barcelona down.

So I did something I vowed I’d never do – I wrote a political opinion piece for my blog on Eye On Spain. I was amazed by the attention it attracted – most of it very favourable. And when several advocates for Catalan independence told me that it was a big help when people who are not directly involved in the debate came out with balanced views which could be picked up by international news sites, I decided that I’d do my modest bit to help the cause.

I don’t pretend to be any sort of expert on Catalan politics, or any sort of politics for that matter, but I do hate unfairness, and Catalonia has been treated unfairly for too long. So when I see something that gets my goat, or when my newfound Catalan friends ask me to help get the word out on something, I’ll be writing about it here.

Sometimes you have to write from the heart, whatever the topic is, and very often, it turns out better than you hoped or expected. I’m very proud of the articles I’ve written on the Catalonia question – particularly this one. These articles are out of my comfort zone, but they’ve been very well received, and shared all over the world. And that’s what any writer really wants, isn’t it?

Photo credit: Simon Harris