Catalonia’s former separatist leader Artur Mas warns Madrid of backlash

On trial for holding a symbolic independence vote, Catalonia's former leader Artur Mas warned Madrid against implementing drastic measures to stop another such referendum - binding this time - from taking place as planned by his successor.

Catalonia's former separatist leader Artur Mas warns Madrid of backlash
Photo: AFP

In an interview with AFP this week, Mas said any attempt to take away powers from Catalonia to stop such a vote from taking place would likely create a “strong” backlash in a region led by a government backed by a majority-separatist parliament.  

But he also sought to ease fears about secessionist plans in the northeastern region at a time of global jitters.

Political trial?

Mas, a 61-year-old former economist, said he thought the trial was merely taking place because of the “big success” of the symbolic, non-binding referendum held in November 2014 when he was still president of Catalonia.

He and two former members of his government are accused of severe civil disobedience and misconduct for holding the vote after it was banned by Spain's Constitutional Court, which had declared it illegal.

More than 80 percent of those who cast their ballot in the vote did so for independence – although just 2.3 million people out of a total of 6.3 million eligible voters took part.

“These 2.3 million people who went to vote exceeded all forecasts, irritating the Spanish government which was accused of being soft and sparking an over-reaction,” he said.

“Essential and basic democratic rights such as citizen participation and the right to freedom of expression are being violated.”

September referendum

Mas, Catalan president from 2010 to 2016, has now been replaced by Carles Puigdemont, the former mayor of Girona.    

Resolutely pro-independence, he has pledged to hold a referendum in September – a binding one this time, with or without Madrid's consent.

But how exactly it will go ahead is unclear, as the central government has vowed never to allow an act that would risk the unity of Spain.    

Last week, reports emerged that Madrid was considering drastic measures to stop a vote, such as closing schools where polling booths could be set up or taking control of the police, which is normally managed by regional authorities.

The government neither confirmed nor publicly denied the reports.  

“Those who are considering interfering in Catalan autonomy should think twice, as they don't know what the Catalan reaction will be,” Mas said.    

“Depending on how aggressive (the interference) will be, the reaction of Catalan society could also be very strong. It will be democratic and peaceful, but it will be very strong.”

Global jitters

Mas acknowledged that there was currently a lot of “commotion” in the world at a time when the region's pro-independence government is trying to take steps towards splitting from Spain.

The rise of far-right parties in Europe, Britain's shock decision to exit the European Union, or Donald Trump's election to the US presidency, pledging more protectionism, have sent jitters round the world, with people fearful of more instability.

But Mas sought to allay fears over Catalonia's intentions.    

“We're in favour of the European project, the European Union, the euro, of welcoming refugees,” he said.

Street power

Mas said that Catalonia's pro-independence authorities may be up against the state and its institutions, but still have the power to call people onto the streets.

Millions have protested over the past years to demand greater autonomy and outright independence, and some 40,000 people showed up at the start of Mas's trial in Barcelona on Monday.

“Europe and the world must understand that this is not a movement organised by Catalan politicians, it's a movement channelled by some Catalan politicians but rooted in the people.”

Still, the Catalans are very divided over the issue – 44.9 percent want independence while 45.1 percent don't, according to a recent poll conducted by a Catalan public institute.

A large majority, however, wants a referendum to have their say, once and for all, the survey said.

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14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local

Barcelona is a popular city for foreign residents in Spain thanks to its coastal location, many international companies and great lifestyle. However, navigating life here can take some getting used to, so here are our top Barcelona life hacks to help make things easier for you.

14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local
Barcelona life hacks. Image: Michal Jarmoluk / Pixabay

Invest in a good water filter

Barcelona tap water doesn’t taste the best, particularly in the areas around the Old Town such as El Born, the Gothic Quarter, Barceloneta and Raval. The water is also very hard, meaning that it leaves limescale on appliances such as your kettle.

Using a good water filter can improve the taste and make sure that limescale doesn’t build up. It’s also much more economical and healthier than buying bottled water every time you want a drink.

Use the Rodalies trains to get across the city faster

Many people when they first move to Barcelona just use the metro and don’t bother using the Rodalies trains. While it’s not always necessary, for certain journeys it can make getting across the city much faster.

For example, if you need to get from Sant Andreu or Clot to Sants to connect to one of the intercity trains, it’s only two or three stops on the Rodalies, as opposed to more than 10 on the metro, as well as changing to different lines.

Don’t try and get anything important done in August

This is probably true of most of Spain, but if you need to get anything important done, whether official paperwork or renovations on your apartment, don’t try and get them done in August.

The whole city goes on holiday for the month of August, including office personnel, builders and handypeople. If you need to get any of this done, it’s best to get it done before the holidays or to wait until September.  

Don’t buy drinks from sellers on the beach or in the park

You’ll find many people selling drinks on the city’s beaches and in the main Ciutadella Park. While it can be tempting to buy these, especially when it’s so hot, you need to be aware that these cans of drinks are often stored inside drains or under manhole covers, meaning that they’re not the cleanest.

A few years ago, El País took the mojitos sold by hawkers on the beaches to a local lab. The results came back a few days later to show that they contained high levels of fecal matter and bacteria in them.

Barcelona’s Chinese supermarkets are a great source of ingredients

Although you can now find many more foreign ingredients in local supermarkets than you could just a few years ago, there are still many that you may miss from back home, particularly South East Asian and Indian ingredients.

Barcelona has several excellent Chinese supermarkets, where you can find a range of ingredients, everything from sesame oil and Thai curry paste to Indian spices and affordable peanut butter.

Don’t take valuables out with you to certain areas, particularly at night

Unfortunately, bag snatchings and pickpockets are still commonplace in Barcelona. While the thieves mainly target tourists, foreign residents often find that they are targets too.

The trick is to blend in like a local, look like you know where you’re going and don’t take valuables with you to areas such as the Gothic Quarter, Raval or the Rambla, especially at night. Bag snatchings in El Born have also increased in recent years, so keep your wits about you around there too. 

Find your favourite beach outside of the city

Barcelona’s beaches may have been one of your prime reasons for moving here, but you’ll find that you actually prefer the beaches outside of the city.

Overcrowded, dangerous and a lot dirtier than other beaches in the area, the beaches in Barcelona are unfortunately not all that they’re cracked up to be. You’ll often find that after you’ve been for a swim, your valuables will not still be on the sand where you left them. Head just 15 to 20 minutes outside of the city however and you’ll find the beaches are far nicer and safer.

Find a beach outside of the city centre to go to. Photo: makunin /Pixabay

Try to join several different clubs or groups

Barcelona is a very transient city, meaning that people are moving here and leaving all the time. As a result, you’ll often find that most of the friends you made when first moving here have now moved away and you’ll constantly need to make more. If you join several clubs and groups, you’ll find that making new friends all the time is a lot easier. 

Don’t buy a single transport ticket

It’s never really worth buying a single transport ticket in Barcelona, because you’ll end up spending much more money per journey than you would if you bought the T-Casual (10 journeys) or the monthly T-Usual metro card instead.

You can also buy 10-journey bono tickets for the Rodalies trains, which will also save a lot of money if you’re making regular journeys out of the city. 

Try and avoid shopping at Port del Angel on Saturdays

Port del Angel is Barcelona’s main pedestrianised shopping street. While it’s great and has all the high-street fashion shops you want, it can be a nightmare shopping here on Saturdays.

If you do need to shop on a Saturday, try Rambla Catalunya or one of the shopping malls instead, which won’t be so crowded.

Be prepared for festivals and events

Barcelona holds so many festivals and events that it can be hard to keep up. In normal (non-Covid) years, there is one every other week.

Because of this tickets sell out quickly and there are many fun cultural events that you might miss out on. Keep your calendar up to date, so you know what’s going on, and make sure to book tickets for anything you want to see, well in advance. 

Tipping isn’t necessary at all bars and restaurants

Tipping isn’t all that common in Barcelona, unless perhaps if it’s a particularly nice restaurant or if there’s a large group of you that the waiter has had to look after.

You’ll find that it’s not expected either, except maybe at some of the city’s very touristy restaurants.  

READ ALSO: Why do Catalans have a reputation for being stingy?

Do lots of research before renting an apartment and if it sounds too good to be true, then it is

Unfortunately, there are lots of property scams in Barcelona, so try and do as much research as you can beforehand. Never pay money upfront before you’ve seen the property and received the keys.

Also, be aware that many landlords will not return your deposit at the end of your stay.

Many people get around this by not paying the last month’s rent, but this can also make things difficult for the good landlords who may genuinely need to deduct something for damages, so speak with your estate agency on the best thing to do in this situation.

READ ALSO: What you should know about renting an apartment in Barcelona

Hire a gestor or lawyer to help with immigration and tax issues

You’ll save yourself a lot of time and hassle with immigration and tax issues if you hire a professional to help you in Barcelona, where getting a cita previa (appointment) for official matters can often be difficult, in part because these law firms often bulk book them.

However, there are certain processes that you won’t need an immigration lawyer for such as getting a residency certificate if you’re from an EU country or exchanging your green residency certificate for a TIE if you are British and moved here before the end of 2020.

READ ALSO: BREXIT: How to apply for a TIE residency card in Spain