Tensions rise in Catalonia over pro-independence yellow ribbons

Catalan separatists decorate streets, monuments and even beaches with yellow ribbons to promote their cause, but their opponents are quick to remove them.

Tensions rise in Catalonia over pro-independence yellow ribbons
Photos: AFP

Tensions are rising in Catalonia over the use of this symbol demanding the release of Catalan political leaders who were jailed during the region's fight for independence last year.

A group of around 80 masked activists wearing white boiler suits removed hundreds of yellow ribbons overnight from small towns near Girona, images broadcast on Spanish television showed.

“We went to three towns and we filled between 18 and 20 garbage bags with yellow ribbons. In total it was between 100 and 120 kilos (220 and 265 pounds),” the spokesman for the self-described Cleaning Brigade, Jose Casado, told AFP.

In a sharply divided region, especially since a failed declaration of independence in October, such groups have emerged in recent months in response to campaigns by Catalan separatists.

Independence sympathisers have covered bridges, entire streets, street fronts and even monuments such as Tarragona's Roman walls with plastic yellow ribbons since Spain jailed a number of Catalan political leaders over the independence declaration. Other leaders went into exile to avoid arrest.

Yellow ribbons have also appeared painted on walls, roads or street furniture like flower pots.

Some Catalan beaches have meanwhile been transformed into cemeteries of yellow crosses which separatists say symbolise the death of democracy in Spain.

Independence sympathisers wear tiny yellow ribbons on their clothes and yellow ribbons occupy the seats in the Catalan parliament of the jailed politicians.

– 'Freedom of expression' –

Catalan president Quim Torra and members of his regional government even posed for a picture by a giant yellow ribbon during the recent one-year anniversary of the deadly jihadist attacks in Barcelona in 2017.

“Anyone can put whatever they want in their home but public spaces belong to everyone,” said Casado of the Cleaning Brigade, arguing that the yellow ribbons were being “imposed” on public spaces by the separatists.

Conservative Spanish parties back the removal of the yellow ribbons, especially centre-right Ciudadanos which was formed to fight Catalan independence.

It has launched a campaign called “Let's remove the yellow ribbons!”. Albert Rivera, the Ciudadanos national leader, and Ines Arrimadas, the leader of Ciudadanos in Catalonia, removed yellow ribbons from public spaces in a Catalan town on Wednesday, throwing them in garbage bags which they carried themselves, before taking part in a demonstration against the ribbons.

Separatists say placing the ribbons in public spaces is part of the “debate of ideas” of any democracy and criticise those who remove them.

“Placing ribbons or anything is an act of democracy. Removing them is restricting freedom of expression, the vice president of influential grass roots separatist group ANC, Pep Cruanyes, told AFP.

“If they don't like our symbols, they should go out and place something else.”

– Punched in face –

Regional head Torra has urged the Catalan police, the Mossos d'Esquadra, to act against “aggressive groups who want to scare activists calling for the release of the prisoners.”

The tension over the ribbons has spilled over into some violent incidents.

Police said on Wednesday they had arrested a man in Barcelona suspected of having punched a woman in the face who was removing yellow ribbons from a park fence.

A Telemadrid TV cameraman was also hit several times on the head on Wednesday during an anti-ribbon rally in Ciutadella. The march was called by political party Ciudadanos, in rejection of the earlier assault on a woman.

The man was attacked because he was wearing something yellow and was believed to be a cameraman working for Catalan TV channel TV3, angering a radical sector of the crowd against the channel's pro-independence views. 

After an anti-independence association filed a lawsuit accusing Mossos of acting “arbitrarily” against those who remove yellow ribbons, public prosecutors on Monday opened a probe into Catalonia's regional police force.

Spain's attorney general, Maria Jose Segarra, has tried to ease tensions, saying recently that “placing or removing (ribbons) was not a crime”. 

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