OPINION: Four things the Catalan crisis can teach us about social unity

The Catalan crisis has made headlines numerous times around the world over the past few months. It has sparked heated arguments between pro-independance and anti-independence supporters. And in many of the reports, the Catalan people – especially pro-independants – have been referred to as “troublemakers” and “nationalists”.

OPINION: Four things the Catalan crisis can teach us about social unity
Photos: AFP

Eva Polymenakou, University of Bath

While some Catalan people might indeed be nationalists, not everyone is. And in this way, accepting a simplistic representation of individuals limits our understanding of complex human beings, and complex societies. Not only is this unfair, it is also dangerous, as it puts social cohesion at risk.

As a researcher of intercultural communication and education, I spend a lot of my time investigating how people can learn to accept and respect cultural diversity. I also look into how people can interact peacefully with those who are different from themselves. These are important skills to have, because all of us encounter people who are culturally different to us on a daily basis. This can either be in the immediate reality or mentally – through things like newspapers, TV, books and films.

The Catalan crisis has shown how people living in the same country can have strongly opposing views – which are sometimes different to friends, family members or neighbours. And for some of these people, inflamed passions and lack of understanding have led to violence and misunderstandings, protests and the severing of personal relationships.

It is clear then that being able to accept and respect other people’s views and cultures helps people to live harmoniously in multicultural societies. And in this way, there is a lot that can be learnt from what has happened in Spain.

1. No two people are the same

In the midst of the current political conflict in Spain, it is important to attempt to understand what may unite the Catalan people, but also to develop an understanding of the unique complexity of each person. Catalan people do not make up a homogeneous group – based on their shared (national) culture. Nor does any given group of people.

The contemporary societies we live in are multicultural. And a broad understanding of culture involves differences among the citizens of such societies in terms of nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, gender, sexual orientation, abilities and disabilities. In this way, we all belong to multiple cultural groups and as a result have multiple cultural identities.

2. It’s time to ditch the stereotypes

To coexist peacefully in any multicultural society, we need to resist the human tendency of thinking in stereotypes and of ascribing imaginary identities to others. Thinking in stereotypes prevents people from grasping individual complexity. Stereotypes reduce individuals to a prevalent characteristic – which can be real or imaginary. Even when an attribute is real, it might not be stable over time and across different situations. This is because culture is something that is fluid, dynamic and context-specific – it is ever changing and always evolving, just like us.

Spain is reportedly ‘ready to discuss’ greater fiscal autonomy for Catalonia. Photo: AFP

3. It’s not just enough to have an opinion

Everyone has the right to agree or disagree with the fight of some Catalan people to gain their independence from Spain. In fact, in democratic societies, we are all free to hold and respectfully support our own opinion on any matter. But this right comes with a responsibility: to learn as much as possible about the matter at hand and about the people involved. For example, many people still don’t know that Catalunya is an autonomous region of Spain, with its own language, its own historical and cultural heritage.

4. Walking in someone else’s shoes pays off

One of the most powerful ways of understanding others is by stepping into their shoes, to see the world through their eyes. Empathy can be defined as:

The ability to identify with or understand the perspective, experiences, or motivations of another individual and to comprehend and share another individual’s emotional state.

No doubt, empathising with others takes an effort and requires people to step-out of their comfort zone. But caring for others is a social investment – because everyone will ultimately benefit from a spirit of mutual understanding and care.

The ConversationThinking and acting in these ways – with more knowledge and with greater empathy, without prejudice, and without leaning on stereotypes – would allow people to value those who think and feel differently. And it would also make it easier for the voices of the “smaller”, the “weaker”, or simply the “other” to be heard and respected.

Eva Polymenakou, PhD candidate in Intercultural Communication and Education,, University of Bath

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Will Spain have a sixth coronavirus wave?

While Covid infections are rising across Europe, Spain has managed to keep cases and hospitalisations low so far this autumn. But there are already signs things may be changing. 

people walk without masks on ramblas barcelona during covid times
Spain’s epidemiological situation is the most favourable in the EU and a sixth wave but will there be a sixth wave? Photo: Pau Barrena/AFP

Coronavirus cases have been rising quickly across Europe since October but not so in Spain, which has maintained one of the lowest infection, hospitalisation and death rates on the continent. 

According to prestigious medical publication The Lancet, Spain could well be on the verge of reaching herd immunity, a statement the country’s Health Minister tends to agree with.  

READ ALSO: Has Spain almost reached herd immunity?

Add the favourable epidemiological indicators to the almost 80 percent rate of full vaccination of Spain’s entire population and the immunity claim doesn’t seem so far-fetched. 

But if there’s one thing this pandemic has taught governments around the world – or should have – is to not assume Covid-19 can be eradicated after a few encouraging weeks. 

Not that Spain is letting down its guard, the general public continues to take mask wearing in indoor spaces seriously (outdoors as well even though not required in many situations) and there are still some regional restrictions in place. 

READ MORE: What Covid-19 restrictions are in place in Spain’s regions in November?

And yet, Covid infections are on the rise again, although not at the pace seen during previous waves of the virus. 

On Thursday November 4th Spain re-entered the Health Ministry’s “medium risk” category after the national fortnightly infection rate surpassed 50 cases per 100,000 people.

From Friday 5th to Monday 8th, it climbed five more points up to 58 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. 

It’s the biggest rise since last July but this shouldn’t be cause for alarm, especially as hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths all remain low and steady.

A closer look at the stats shows that 1.52 percent of hospital beds across the country are currently occupied by Covid patients, 4.41 percent in the case of ICU beds. 

Daily Covid deaths in October were under 20 a day, the lowest rate since August 2020. 

With all this in mind, is a sixth wave of the coronavirus in Spain at all likely?

According to a study by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, Spain will have a sixth wave.

The Seattle-based research group predicts an increase in infections in Spain from the second half of November, which will skyrocket in December reaching the highest peak towards the end of the year. 

The country would reportedly need about 24,000 beds for Covid patients (4,550 for critical ones) and there would be almost 2,000 deaths. 

Increased social interactions would mean that on December 30th alone, daily Covid infections in Spain could reach 92,000, the study claims. 

If restrictions were tightened ahead of the holiday period, including the use of face masks, the sixth wave’s peak wouldn’t be as great, IHME states

It’s worth noting that the IHME wrongly predicted that Spain wouldn’t be affected by a fifth wave whereas it ended up causing more than a million infections and 5,000 deaths. 

two elderly women in san sebastian during covid times
The vaccination rate among over 70s in Spain is almost 100 percent. Photo: Ander Guillenea/AFP

The latest message from Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias is that currently “the virus is cornered” in the country, whilst admitting that there was a slight rise in cases. 

“I do not know if there will be a sixth wave, but first we must remember that immunisation is not complete in all patients despite vaccinations,” Dr. José Polo , president of the Spanish Society of Primary Care Physicians (Semergen), told El Periódico de España

“That’s because 100 percent effectiveness doesn’t exist in any drug, or in any medicine”.

Despite having one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, Spain still has around 4.2 million eligible people who haven’t been vaccinated, mostly people aged 20 to 40. 

The majority of Covid hospitalisations across Spain are patients who have not been vaccinated: 90 percent in the Basque Country, 70 percent in Catalonia and 60 percent in Andalusia.

Among Covid ICU patients, 90 percent of people in critical condition across all regions are unvaccinated. 

“Although there are many people vaccinated in Spain, there will be an increase in cases because we know how the virus is transmitted and when the cold comes and the evenings are darker we will tend to go indoors, and the virus spreads there,” Cesar Carballo, Vice President of the Spanish Society of Emergency Medicine of Madrid, told La Sexta news.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has already warned that Europe is at a  “critical point of regrowth”  and that it has once again become the “epicentre”  of the pandemic, due to the generalised spike in cases in recent weeks.

Does that mean that Spain’s daily infections won’t be in the thousands again as winter nears? Or that regional governments won’t reintroduce Covid measures ahead of Christmas to prevent this from happening?

Nothing is for certain, but as things stand Spain’s epidemiological situation is the most favourable in the EU and a sixth wave seems unlikely, but not impossible.

The Spanish government continues to push ahead with its vaccination campaign, reopening its vaccination centres, administering booster shots to its most vulnerable and considering vaccinating under 12s to meet an immunity target of 90 percent.