Divided Catalans face moment of truth on independence bid

Catalans were anxiously preparing Wednesday for a decisive regional vote, hoping it will help settle the bitter dispute over independence from Spain that has divided their region and rattled Europe.

Divided Catalans face moment of truth on independence bid
People wave flags and hold banners demanding freedom for jailed separatists leaders as they watch deposed Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont speaking via video-conference from Brussels durin

The election pits leaders of the wealthy northeastern region's separatist movement against candidates who want to stay part of Spain.

Record turnout is expected but with pro- and anti-independence candidates neck-and-neck in opinion polls, neither side is likely to win a clear majority.

The regional election is being closely watched across a European Union still reeling from Britain's shock decision to leave the bloc, and wary about any breakup of the eurozone's fourth-largest economy.

'Extreme' positions

The separatist drive has inflamed passions not just in Catalonia but across Spain, with the government in Madrid taking the unprecedented step of stripping the region of its autonomy after its parliament declared independence on October 27th.   

“I think many positions have become very extreme,” said Assumpta Corell, a 21-year-old university student from the seaside city of Castelldefels who says she will vote for Ciudadanos, the centrist, anti-independence party that is scoring high in opinion polls.

READ MORE: What next for Catalonia

“People who have one opinion will maintain it, people who have a different opinion will continue thinking differently, which is great, but the problem comes when politics play at dividing people even more,” she said.

The election campaign has been tense and often surreal, with axed regional president Carles Puigdemont holding rallies via videolink from exile in Belgium, and his former deputy Oriol Junqueras sending out messages and even poems to supporters from behind bars.

“This is not a normal election,” Puigdemont told supporters Tuesday evening in a final, virtual rally from Belgium.   

“What is at stake is not who gets the most votes, but whether the country (Catalonia) or (Spanish Prime Minister Mariano) Rajoy wins” the standoff, he added.

End of a 'nightmare'?

While opinion polls suggest a narrow lead for Junqueras's leftist, pro-independence ERC, voters could ultimately hand victory to Ciudadanos, whose charismatic candidate Ines Arrimadas has campaigned on a fierce anti-nationalist ticket.

She is fighting to replace Puigdemont, who is wanted by the Spanish courts on charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds for his role in the independence drive.

“We are very close to making our dream come true,” Arrimadas told supporters at a rally Tuesday in a working-class district of Barcelona.   

“We are going to wake up from this nightmare on Thursday,” she added.   

But ordinary Catalans on all sides of the divide appeared unsure the election would bring the independence crisis to an end, regardless of who wins.   

“I'm anticipating problems, whoever wins,” said Marc Botey, a 47-year-old musician, as he prepared to teach guitar to a student in Poblenou, a former industrial district of Barcelona that has since become hip.

He says he will be voting for the ERC, and hopes that the vote — at the very least — will clarify once and for all how many independence supporters there are in Catalonia.

“We want to know how many we are to be able to decide if it's worth it,” he said.

Secessionist bid on hold

With the separatist camp in disarray, secessionists will probably put their independence drive on hold even if they win the vote.   

“Even if a pro-independence government is formed it will be very cautious how it acts because it won't want to lose the restored authority the Catalan government has,” Andrew Dowling, contemporary historian in Hispanic studies at Cardiff University, told AFP.

“It won't want to see that suspended again,” he said.

The deposed government's independence declaration prompted more than 3,000 companies to move their headquarters out of the region, and no country has recognised the new “republic”.

The Catalan crisis kicked off in earnest on October 1, when the regional government held a referendum on independence despite a ban by Spain's Constitutional Court.

The vote was marred by a brutal police crackdown and triggered Spain's worst political crisis in decades.

Neither separatist nor pro-unity parties are predicted to win a decisive majority in the 135-seat regional parliament, which could lead to lengthy negotiations to form a government.

If parties cannot agree a governing coalition, Catalonia could face elections again next year, prolonging the political uncertainty.

By Alfons Luna and Marianne Barriaux / AFP

For members


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