For members


ANALYSIS: Are hardline Catalan separatists really going to attempt a violent breakaway?

Hunger strike, sabotage, calls for revolution and reckless unchecked protests. How far will some militant Catalan separatists go?

ANALYSIS: Are hardline Catalan separatists really going to attempt a violent breakaway?
Yellow ribbons have been a sign of peaceful protest. But are things changing? Photo: AFP

In 1991, Slovenia fought a 10-day war with Serbia over its independence, as Yugoslavia began to disintegrate. Flags were taken down, tanks were burnt, bases surrounded and helicopters shot down. “Rough estimates” suggest 75 people were killed and more than 320 injured.

The First Minister of Catalonia, Quim Torra, said this weekend that the “Slovene path”, which he characterised as “freedom”, was the one for the north-eastern Spanish region to follow in 2018: “The Slovenes decided to move forward with all the consequences. Let’s do like they did and be ready for everything to live freely”.

The Mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, condemned the remarks as “gravely irresponsible”. Columns have appeared urgently warning against any such madness. In ABC, Hermann Tertsch, who was there in 1991 “at the time and the place the ‘Slovene path’ was first applied”, recalled that the first effect was “the six smoking bodies of Yugoslav Army recruits inside an armoured fighting vehicle. One had managed to open the hatch but none got out. Members of the Slovene territorial defence force had hit them with a grenade launcher”. In El Mundo, David Gistau began his piece with “what Torra needs is for someone to take him to see a dead body”.

READ MORE: Catalan leader slammed for urging 'Slovenian route' to secession

Also over the weekend, the separatist protest groups known as the CDRs (“Republican Defence Committees”), who were busy blocking the AP7 motorway in Catalonia and opening the toll booths, underwent something of an even more radical transformation, on their Telegram channels at least, with the birth of the GAAR (“Autonomous Quick Action Groups”). 

Their first pdf “communiqué”, in the style of 20th-century revolutionary terror groups, complete with a red and black star logo, promised “boicot and sabotage”, which implies things will be broken, because “we voted for independence, not regional government”. The list of things to be sabotaged includes “cars and roads, railways, the underground and trams, industrial areas, forces of order (police) [and] cable communications”. They said they would begin their revolutionary actions on December 21st “and will only stop when the Catalan Republic is proclaimed”.

Also clamouring for revolutionary violence, on YouTube and Facebook, was a man called Fredi Bentenachs, who was one of the founding members of Terra Lliure, the now defunct Catalan marxist separatist terror group from the 1970s and 80s. On December 21st, the central Spanish government plans to hold a cabinet meeting in Barcelona. Separatist groups plan to disrupt the event. The Public Works Minister, José Luis Ábalos, suggested on Tuesday morning that the government might not now go ahead with the meeting.

Mr. Ábalos wrote one of three letters the central government sent to the regional executive on Monday evening ordering them to restore order in the Catalan Police immediately and have them enforce the law in the region. The specific events that have led to the letters are the motorway protests over the weekend.

The Home Secretary, Fernando Grande Marlaska, noted the Catalan Police had stood around and done nothing to stop the protesters. One video even showed two or three officers, instead of ensuring the rights of all and road safety, asking them if they wouldn’t mind moving out of the way a bit. In their rulings, judges investigating last year’s crisis have been keenly aware of the possible threat posed by 17,000 armed officers responding to the orders of separatist leaders and not the courts.

This time, as well as the usual tire and stick barricade, the CDR members had very recklessly ripped off a section of motorway barrier to lay across the road. One lorry carrying dangerous materials got stuck on it. There was nearly physical violence between the lorry drivers and the separatists after the drivers, thoroughly fed up, began to remove the dead branches on the barricade. And another video appeared of residents in a village nearly coming to blows over the yellow ribbons.

In Lledoners jail, four of the nine separatist leaders on remand say they have gone on hunger strike. Their spokeswoman said on Monday that they had lost between three and seven kilos each, after seven to ten days. They want the Constitutional Court to hear their appeals so that they can then appeal to European courts. Gandhi’s hunger strikes lasted up to 21 days; Bobby Sands and the other nine Irish republicans who died lasted between 46 and 73 days in 1981.

The spokeswoman told me yesterday she hoped she would not have to tell the world of that outcome in this case, but that the four politicians had not set an end-date for their prison protest.

So the question for Catalonia, and Spain, is once again one of rhetoric and reality. Last year’s crisis was very evidently not solved by the temporary suspension of home rule. As Carles Puigdemont represented a more entrenched nationalist leadership option compared to Artur Mas, so Quim Torra, who openly defends radical street violence and is now suggesting not very subtly that even more aggression might be the path forward, represents yet another step towards revolution. Lots of radical separatist voices, are suggesting the same option, violence or revolt, at the same time.

As well as being deeply irresponsible, it remains to be seen how many supporters will answer those clarion calls, decide the time has come to make something of a stand and actually start breaking things and hurting people. How far are some separatists willing to go?

Matthew Bennett is the creator of The Spain Report. You can read more of his writing on Patreon, and follow him on Twitter. Don't miss his podcast series with weekly in-depth analysis on Spain.

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