FOCUS: Catalan separatists torn asunder a year after independence bid

Catalonia's separatist movement is split a year after the region's fruitless declaration of independence from Spain, with some pressing ahead on an idealist path to secession and others backing a pragmatic turn.

FOCUS: Catalan separatists torn asunder a year after independence bid
Students hold a demo on the first anniversary of the banned referendum. Photo: AFP

For separatists, the one-year anniversary of the declaration of independence made by Catalonia's regional parliament on October 27th, 2017 remains a failure.

Spain's central government responded to the move by ousting the regional Catalan government headed by Carles Puigdemont, who then fled to Belgium, and imposing direct control over the wealthy northeastern region.   

“We had the impression that we could change everything, that we could win. Now I see a dark future,” said Carmen Roig, 59, in Arenys de Munt, a separatist bastion near Barcelona which in 2009 held the first in a series of local plebiscites on independence.

Teneo Intelligence analyst Antonio Barroso said that “what happened after the declaration of the Catalan republic basically demonstrated that independence is not possible.”

The path to independence collided with the intransigence of Spain's central government and the national constitution, which declares that the country is indivisible.

And despite the arrival of new socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez — who depends on Catalan separatist parties to pass legislation — Madrid still refuses to allow any referendum on self-determination.

ANALYSIS: Why the future of Spain's PM is being decided in a makeshift office behind bars in Catalonia 

'Latent tensions'

Faced with this barrier, the separatist camp has become divided between supporters of Puigdemont and those of the more pragmatic ERC party, both allied in the Catalan regional government.

Sanchez has been more open to dialogue with Catalonia than his conservative predecessor Mariano Rajoy. 

This in turn has fuelled the divisions among separatists who are split over how to respond, said Gabriel Colome, political science lecturer at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.   

“It is as if on the other side of a tennis court, you suddenly have a player instead of a wall returning the ball,” he told AFP.   

“From that moment, all the latent tensions within the separatist camp emerged.”

This has prompted Puigdemont and the more radical camp to continue to push for independence.

“It could come from one day to another, like (the fall) of the Berlin Wall,” said Josep Manel Ximenis, the former mayor of Arenys de Munt.   

Puigdemont on Saturday will launch a new party called “National Call for the Republic” on the anniversary of the declaration of independence.   

“We are not talking about a dream, we are talking about a reality, we are talking about the Catalan Republic,” says a TV clip for the new party.   

Three days later, on October 30th, Puigdemont will present a “Council of the Republic” — a sort of Catalan government in exile in Belgium, although separatists already rule Catalonia.

'Surreal' discourse

Colome said a significant number of Catalan voters are taken in by what he termed a “surreal” discourse.

“Around one million people firmly believe there is a legitimate president in exile and that there is no democracy in Spain,” the analyst said.   

On the other side of the chessboard, ERC and a part of Puigdemont's former party PDeCAT have adopted a more pragmatic stance.   

“A year later, they arrived at the conclusion that the unilateral path was a mistake,” said Colome.

This faction now wants to drum up more support for independence so that more than half of all Catalan would be in favour of it, instead of just the 47.5 percent who cast ballots for separatist parties in the last regional election, he added.   

Barroso said this push could take 10-15 years.   

“Making a moderate turn is very difficult after having mobilised the base so much,” he added.

The powerful grassroots separatist organisation ANC, which has staged massive pro-independence street protests in Barcelona, “piles on the pressure”, Barroso said.

The ANC has threatened to withdraw its support for the Catalan regional government unless it publishes by the end of the year a clear roadmap to achieve independence.

The trial of 18 former Catalan leaders over their role in the separatist push, expected to start in early 2019, also helps to keep the separatist camp mobilised.

“Without these 'political prisoners', the separatist movement would not be as strong as it is at the moment,” said Colome.

By AFP's Daniel Bosque and Mathieu Gorse

READ MORE: Spain's Supreme Court orders trial of former Catalan leaders 

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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