Young Spaniards worry they might have to leave Catalonia

 In U.S.

Columbus Monument, Barcelona, 5 October

Image caption

The Columbus Monument was erected in Barcelona at the end of the 19th Century

One of the more spectacular measures proposed by a radical Catalan separatist party last year was to pull down Barcelona’s famous Christopher Columbus Monument.

Despite this outside shot by a handful of CUP city councillors, who regard it as a symbol of slavery, the landmark 60m (200ft) column is very much still standing, the explorer pointing with his bronze hand out to sea and the New World.

But some Catalan Spaniards saw the proposal as an attempt to erase their Spanish identity in the city, a sign of things to come, like Sunday’s vote for independence.

“This is the final crash,” Juan told me after watching Catalan President Carles Puigdemont’s post-referendum interview with the BBC, where he confirmed he would press on with independence. “I will have to leave Catalonia if it happens.”

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Media captionCarles Puigdemont spoke to the BBC on Tuesday evening

The thought of abandoning the land of his birth tortures him. He is one of some 40% of Catalans who voted for unionist parties at the last legal election, in 2015 – the bedrock of support Madrid counts upon in the restive region.

Young men like him are nervous about speaking out, fearing they may suffer in their careers if they end up as a minority in a foreign country, but some of them, mostly young professionals, agreed to share their thoughts with me over the messaging service WhatsApp, on condition of anonymity.

What would happen to them after independence?

One common fear is that Catalan Spaniards, many descended from generations of migrant workers from the poorer south of Spain, will become second-class citizens, viewed with suspicion like Mexican migrants in the US.

Sergio believes the independence movement has not thought through the full implications of its goal.

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Posters showing Spanish and Catalan flags side by side were vandalised in Barcelona last week

“What would happen to our grandparents’ pensions?” he asks.

“Are they expecting pensions to be paid by Spain, like Donald Trump with his wall paid for by the Mexicans? What will happen the very next day? What currency will we have? Will we stay in Europe?”

Sabadell, Spain’s fifth-biggest bank, has said it will move its legal base out of Catalonia. Other firms may follow.

“I’m really worried because many companies are leaving us,” says David.

“I just see irresponsibility from the independence movement when they say: ‘Go away, we don’t mind because we’ll have more job opportunities’.

“They say so without taking into account the families that will get separated after this process. It looks like they just want more opportunities for themselves, without taking into account other people.”

  • Reality Check: Would Catalonia be a viable country?

Are they Spanish or Catalan?

“We feel Catalan and Spanish and I’m not going to allow independence supporters to take my culture away,” says David.

Image caption

Not everyone in Barcelona equated the referendum with democracy

“I am who I am thanks to all of Spain, not only Catalonia. Catalonia is my home but the rest of Spain defines my personality as well.

“In Spain we’ve got lots of amazing things which make all of us better people, and nobody has the right to remove those things from our lives.”

Sergio fears Catalan Spaniards are being excluded from the future state that independence campaigners advocate.

“The Catalan government currently speaks only in the name of the nationalists, referring to the ‘Catalan country’,” he says.

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