This is a collection of blog posts and news articles that I produced while working as a freelance journalist based in Barcelona during two three-month spells in 2014 and 2015.
Spain outlaws Catalan independence flag
Spain’s Central Election Commission has faced a backlash after it outlawed the Catalonia independence flag on public buildings ahead of upcoming local and regional elections.
Numerous Estelada independence flags have emerged on countless balconies across Catalonia in protest at the ban, as several of the region’s 710 town councils that voted in favour of succession from Spain defied the law after the CEC ruled the banners were separatist propaganda.
Meanwhile, three Spanish soldiers have been detained after being caught stealing the Catalan independence flag in Girona in the latest flag theft involving the military in a row that has overshadowed campaigning and has been dubbed the “Flag War”.
Elsewhere, several Catalan nationalist councils have defied another recent law ordering municipalities to fly the Spanish flag outside town halls. Calldetenes mayor Marc Verdaguer has been fined 1,500 euros ($1,670) for the crime.
Flag flying ‘unfair’
Pro-Spain group Societat Civil Catalana has complained to the electoral commission it was unfair to fly the separatist banners because nationalist parties could use the Estelada, or starry, flags to influence local elections on Monday and a regional vote in September.
The group says it found almost 400 Estelada flags, across more than 300 Catalan municipalities and had wanted all banned, but the commission ruled it should apply to government-owned buildings only.
Catalan nationalist councils say Spain is trying to stop nationalists’ plans to secede from Spain in 2017 if pro-independence parties win regional parliamentary elections on September 27.
Catalan political author, journalist and entrepreneur Adrià Alsina.
Catalan political author, journalist and entrepreneur Adrià Alsina said the Catalan flag, which has the same distinctive colours and stripes but not the star of the pro-independence flag, was permitted because it was not considered propaganda.
“The Catalan pro-independence flag, which has lately been raised by many city councils and can be seen anywhere in Barcelona, for instance, on a lot of balconies, in cars, in shops, that particular flag does pose a problem, according to the electoral commission,” Alsina said.
“The direct impact that this ban has had is there have been many more flags on balconies in the last month than we were used to. So there has been a popular response to this official ban by regular people.”
The Estelada flag was inspired by the flags of Cuba and Puerto Rico and created after their wars with Spain in the late 19th and early 20th century.
Alsina said it remained to be seen what the outcome of the upcoming elections would be, but it looked like voters would back the Catalan nationalists parties.
In Monday’s council elections, polls show the pro-independence Convergencia I Unio could be defeated or have to share power with up to six other groups with different visions in Catalonia’s capital, Barcelona.
Other issues that have dominated the local campaign include a perceived influx of unruly tourists, with anti-tourism banners emerging alongside Esteladas on balconies in the popular beachside suburb of La Barceloneta.
Politicians vying for their votes have pledged to limit hotel licences or fund improvements in affected neighbourhoods, including double-glazing residents’ windows.
Plaça Sant Jaume in Barcelona has been at the heart of the independence movement.
Spain PM Mariano Rajoy vows no deal on Catalonia independence push
Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy vowed on Saturday never to negotiate with Catalonia on independence.
Rajoy made the promise to rapturous applause from about 200 fellow members of Spain’s ruling political group, the People’s Party, in Catalonia’s portside capital Barcelona, during the leader’s brief visit.
It was Rajoy’s first trip to the region in northern Spain since 2.3 million of Catalonia’s 5.4 million people backed independence in a non-binding poll on November.
It follows Spain filing charges against Catalonia leader Artur Mas, his deputy, Joana Ortega, and Catalan Education Minister Irene Rigau, over the vote.
Rajoy attacked Mas in particular during his address at the World Trade Center on the harbour.
“If what he wanted was to create tension, divide the society, go above the law, we need to recognise that those objectives were reached,” Rajoy said. “If what he wanted was to show a pro-independence Catalonia he failed.”
Independence road map
Eighty-one percent of those who voted in November backed independence, but Rajoy stated that the turnout of 37 percent showed most Catalans were opposed to the region breaking from Spain.
However, Spain MEP and Democratic Convergence of Catalonia politician Ramon Tremosa said the fact that two-thirds of Catalan voters had selected pro-independence parties at the 2012 regional elections and the European Union elections in May indicated that the people wanted a referendum on the issue.
“In the 21st century, it is the people voting for the parliaments who define what is legal and what is not,” Tremosa said.
However, Mas outlined a road map this past week, pledging to call early regional elections in 2015, and then entering an 18-month transition period, which would end with a final referendum on independence.
Tremosa was hopeful that the European Union could be part of the negotiation process during this period.
“Hopefully, if there is the possible of the Catalonian people to express their will, and, hopefully, all the polls show, the recent elections demonstrate, that we have a new Catalan state,” Tremosa said.
Sales of defecating celebrity caganer figurines set to soar in Catalonia
Sales of the Catalan figurines caganers, depicted in the act of defecation, are expected to soar this Christmas in the wake of Catalonia’s vote that backed breaking from Spain.
The tradition of caganers, which translaters a ‘defecators’, is believed to date back to the 17th century.The statuettes symbolise fertilisation, equality, hope and prosperity for the coming year. It is considered unlucky in Catalonia not to place the squatting figurines in Christmas nativity scenes for others to find.
Originally, a peasant from one of Spain’s Catalan-speaking areas was depicted, but the region has seen a boom in defecating celebrity depictions in the past two decades, including U.S. president Barack Obama. Many celebrities, politicians and footballers see being depicted as caganers as an honour.
Caganer.com employs about 80 people from foundations that support disabled initiatives and produces 35,000 clay figures hand-painted by artisans every year, with 10 percent of production exported to abroad, particularly to markets in the U.S., central Europe and South America.
This year, the jewel of caganer is a figurine of a pro-independence ballot box character, of which the family pottery company Caganer.com says it expects to sell 1,500 units at a cost of about 15 euros each.
The figurine is painted in the red and yellow colours of the Catalan flag, squatting with its trousers around its ankles. The character features a white ballot sheet with the words ‘si, si’ (‘yes, yes’) written on it, in reference to the non-binding November 9 vote that saw 80 percent of the two million Catalans who voted back breaking from Spain.
Other popular caganers on sale this year include Catalan president Artur Mas squatting next to ballot boxes representing the vote for independence.
The pride Catalans feel in displaying caganers is in contrast to the feeling of Barcelona city council in 2005, when the figurine was omitted from the Catalonia capital’s official Christmas display because it was felt not to be in keeping with the city’s attempts to clean itself up. However, the shelves of stores and Christmas stalls near Barcelona cathedral were still filled with caganers.
Last year, statues of the Virgin of Montserrat, or La Moreneta (‘dark-skinned one’), the patron saint of Catalonia, caused a storm of controversy in Catholic Spain, after the Bishop’s Conference of Tarragona dismissed the depiction as disrespectful. However, the Association of Friends of the Caganer said this was not the case.
“The placement of this uninhibited and controversial figure in the crèche is a counterpoint which adds a human side to the representation of the mystery of Christmas,” the association said on its website at the time.
Although caganers are considered a Catalan tradition, they can also be found in other parts of Spain, Portugal and Naples.
Catalan voters back succession from Spain
Catalans have told of their hopes of an independent Catalonia, after most of the more than two million who voted on Sunday to break from Spain in a referendum the central government dismissed as “useless”.
The non-binding vote went ahead in the autonomous northeastern region and at polling booths in the U.S., Britain and Australia despite Spain’s constitutional court ruling against holding a formal referendum.
Catalan leader Artur Mas said after results showed more than 80 percent backed becoming independent the result should lead to a formal referendum.
Jordi Fornas, mayor of Gallifa, north of Barcelona, said Catalonia had waited 300 years for independence and the Spanish government had to act.
“It is a significant vote,” Fornas said.
“The Catalan people have decided on their future. It is a democratic decision.”
Voters were asked, “Do you want Catalonia to be a state?” If answered affirmatively, the ballot paper asked, “Do you want that state to be independent?”
Partial results showed 80.7 percent of those who took part in the vote voted yes to both questions while little more than 10 percent voted yes for the first question and no for the second.
About 4.5 percent voted no to both questions raised in Sunday’s vote. Some residents in Caralonia, many of whom did not vote on Sunday, believe the region should stay a part of Spain because they want to be a part of the European Union.
The vote showed that the people had spoken and did not want to be ruled by Spain after 300 years of occupation, Fornas said, in reference to the 1714 siege during the War of Spanish Succession.
Fornas declared nearly two years ago his town would no longer pay taxes to Madrid. He, like many in Catalonia, feels Catalans are bankrolling Spain’s struggling economy, with Catalan taxpayers contributing 20 billion euros to Spain every year and about one fifth of the country’s economic output.
Venetian independence campaigner Geremia Agnoletti was in Barcelona to support the independence vote.
Regional independence push
Voter Guillem Martinez, who fundraises every Sunday for the weekly Sardana dance outside Barcelona Cathedral, said the support showed that Spain must grant the region independence.
“The Spanish government is scared about the possibility of division of Catalonia from Spain because Catalonia, with Basque, are the two best models of the economy of Spain,” he said.
The move has raised hopes among groups from other European regions seeking independence that argue that they too have their own language, history and culture.
Geremia Agnoletti led a contingent that travelled from Venice to support Catalonians campaigning for an independent state. He has campaigned for years for Venice to become independent from Italy.
“Venetian people are not Italian people,” Agnoletti says.
“We have a history, 1100 years of independence, a language, the Venetian language,” Agnoletti says.
Other regional independence-seekers on-hand to cheer on the Catalonia independence charge included Flemish people seeking independence for the Flanders region of Belgium, Welsh people seeking independence from Britain and supporters of an independent Scotland, which voted to stay in the United Kingdom in September.
(featured on Informucate)