Spain braces for verdict in Catalan separatist leaders’ case

Spain was battening down the hatches Friday ahead of a Supreme Court ruling on the fate of 12 Catalan leaders for their role in a failed 2017 independence bid that sparked the country's worst political crisis in decades.

Spain braces for verdict in Catalan separatist leaders' case
Demonstrators in Barcelona on October 1st this year. Photo: Pau Barrena / AFP

Ahead of the verdict, which is expected as soon as Monday, the tension was palpable with police sending in reinforcements to Catalonia where separatists pledged a mass show of civil disobedience, calling for rallies, roadblocks and a general strike.

The government is hoping the long-awaited ruling will allow it to turn the page on the crisis and resume dialogue with this wealthy northeastern region where support for independence has been gaining momentum over the past decade.

But the separatist movement is hoping for just the opposite: that the anticipated guilty verdicts will unite their divided ranks and bring people onto the streets in support of their cause.

On the evening of the day when the ruling is published, activists from the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Omnium Cultural, the two biggest grassroots pro-independence groups, have called for rallies across the region.

Then demonstrators in five towns will begin a march to Barcelona where they will arrive on Friday, when a general strike has been called.

And the Committees for the Defence of the Republic (CDR), a group known for its radical activism, on Friday promised to stage several “surprises”.

Anti-riot police have already been discreetly deployed to Catalonia, but the interior ministry has refused to give numbers.

The tension is worrying the main Catalan business lobby group which warned Thursday that though the sentence would have a “significant emotional impact”, it was important the response avoided disrupting “the normal course of business activity or social cohesion”.

For many, the situation has brought back memories of the runup to the October 1st 2017 referendum which was marred by police violence, and of tensions in the street ahead of the short-lived independence declaration of October 27th.

The 12 defendants, most of them members of the former Catalan government, are facing long prison terms for their role in Spain's biggest political crisis since Francisco Franco died in 1975, ending decades of dictatorship.

Following a high-profile trial, which lasted four months and was closely watched both at home and abroad, judges at Spain's highest court will announce their decision in a statement.

The two main charges at issue are those of rebellion and sedition.

Of the two, rebellion carries a far heavier sentence for implying the use of violence, an allegation strongly denied by the defence.

By definition, it is “rising up in a violent and public manner” to, among other things, “declare independence for part of the (Spanish) territory”.

Sedition, however, is “rising up publicly and in turbulent fashion” to “prevent by force or in an illegal way” the law from being applied, or the application of an administrative or legal decision.

In the absence of former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium to avoid prosecution, his former deputy Oriol Junqueras was the main defendant.

If convicted of rebellion, he could face up to 25 years behind bars.

With just a month left until Spain heads to the polls for its fourth election in as many years, the sentence has put the Catalan question once more at the centre of the political debate.

Speaking in Barcelona on Wednesday, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said it was time “to rebuild the coexistence that was so necessary in Catalonia” while denouncing the “failed political programme of the pro-independence movement.. that was based on a big lie”.

When the Socialist leader took power in June 2018, he tried to open dialogue with the separatists which fell apart when the trial began in February.

With the case now nearing its end, Sanchez's government is hoping there might be a fresh opportunity to talk, saying it could be “a good moment to re-open the door… and start to resolve the conflict politically”.

In response, Junqueras' leftwing ERC party proposed “an amnesty” in order to return to the negotiating table.

“We cannot talk while there are political prisoners and people in exile,” the group's parliamentary leader said.

Under pressure from the right, who have accused the Socialist government of being too lenient with the separatists, Sanchez has made clear he would not hesitate to take extraordinary measures to ensure security.

READ ALSO: Madrid eyes fresh dialogue with Catalonia after jailed separatists' trial

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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