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ELECTIONS

FOCUS: Catalonia goes to the polls on Sunday but has separatism lost its spark?

Spain's northeastern region of Catalonia goes to the polls on Sunday, but has the tide turned against independence?

FOCUS: Catalonia goes to the polls on Sunday but has separatism lost its spark?
A demonstration on Oct 1st 2020 to mark 3rd anniversary of banned independence referendum. Photo: AFP

As has happened every night for over a year, dozens of protesters demanding independence from Spain sit down in the middle of a wide Barcelona avenue, bringing traffic to a standstill.

Though just a handful, they are supporters of Catalonia's powerful separatist movement which is gearing up for an important regional election on Sunday that could ease a years-long crisis over the thorny question of independence.   

The movement, whose two main parties dominate the regional government, has faced a growing crisis since 2017 following a failed bid to break away from Spain.

“Before the pandemic there were more of us but people are tired. There is political disenchantment,” says 70-year-old Amadeu Pallister, who swears he has been at every one of the more than 300 nightly protests held so far on Meridiana Avenue.   

“Some politicians are talking about dialogue, about negotiating with Madrid, but we already know you can't expect anything from Spain, only repression,” he told AFP.

“The only solution is independence.”   

The nightly demonstrations began in October 2019 when Spain's Supreme Court handed lengthy prison terms to nine Catalan separatist leaders over their role in the 2017 crisis, sparking mass protests, some of them violent.

At the time, about a thousand people massed on Meridiana Avenue, blocking one of Barcelona's key arteries.

Keeping the independence spirit alive

After a year of nightly protests that only stopped during the months-long coronavirus lockdown last spring, the number of participants has dwindled to just a few dozen, who spread out across the eight lanes of traffic ignoring angry honking from drivers.   

“It is just not logical to keep doing this for so long: cutting traffic every day for two hours,” said Vicente Serrano, a 61-year-old human resources manager who lives in the neighbourhood.

“But because it's in the Catalan government's interest to keep this alive, it accepts and encourages it.”   

Serrano fears Sunday's election will return the separatist parties to power.   

They've ruled this region of 7.8 million people since 2015 but are coming to the polls strongly divided over the question of exactly how to achieve independence.

And the region itself is divided, with a December poll showing 45.1 percent in favour of independence from Spain and 49.9 percent against, with leaders of the two camps routinely attacking each other.

“In this election, the general tension has given way to internal tension within the independence movement,” says Oriol Bartomeus, a political scientist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

The movement is divided into two main currents with the hardline JxC — “Together for Catalonia” — heading the coalition alongside the more moderate ERC, or “Republican Left of Catalonia”.

JxC has taken a more confrontational approach, pledging a new declaration of independence if it wins while ERC has softened its position, becoming an ally of Spain's Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in the national parliament.

Differences to the fore

Ahead of the vote, ERC has accused its rival of not being “realistic”, while JxC argues that ERC's strategy will lead separatism into a “dead end”.   

“The independence movement must decide which direction it's heading in, whether that of ERC or JxC,” says Bartomeus.

“These elections will provide the answer.”   


An electoral poster of Salvador Illa, Catalan regional presidency candidate for the PSC. Photo: AFP

The Socialists have high hopes after tapping former health minister Salvador Illa, the public face of Spain's fight against the pandemic, as their candidate for the top post in Catalonia.

 

Polls suggest the Socialists could come in first place but the ERC looks poised to play kingmaker.

“ERC has all the cards in its hands,” said political analyst Josep Ramoneda.

The party could form a leftist government with the Socialists and far-left party Podemos, or form another separatist government with JxC, he said, even if ERC has repeatedly ruled out any agreement with the Socialists.

“Whichever happens, reality will kick in and slow the separatist drive. And anyone seeking to speed it up as they did in 2017 will end up crashing.” 

By AFP's Daniel Bosque

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CATALONIA

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

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