‘We don’t know how good we have it here’: Many Catalans don’t want a break with Spain

 In World

“Show me oppression,” Gimenez said, sipping a coffee and rolling her eyes. “We are the freest people in Europe.”

Semiautonomous Catalonia has a population of around 7 million, and the regional government controls the education system, health care, broadcast media and regional police — with its own parliament, language and culture.

Taxes, though, are sent to Madrid, then redistributed.

On Saturday, thousands dressed all in white took to the streets under a banner in Spanish and Catalan — Hablemos/Parlem — Let’s talk. They eschewed the usual flag waving.

Though many who oppose the referendum were from the right, a lot of freethinking Catalans from the left were also against it.

Javier Mariscal, the designer who created the mascot Cobi for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, said he does not support a sovereign Catalan republic, although he said he understands the deep emotions left over from the Spanish Civil War and the motivations of those who want a break with Spain.

“All the corners of Spain are filled with very beautiful people, and we’ve had this great continuous relationship between us, with all the commercial, cultural, familial ties. Let’s keep it together,” Mariscal said. 

“We don’t know how good we have it here. Let’s not blow it,” he said. “Spain works as a country and as an idea.”

While Mariscal is against Catalan independence, he said there should be a referendum — but a fair and open one. 

He and others pointed out that in the weeks leading up to the controversial referendum there was no broad debate over what independence would mean.

“Where is the plan?” Mariscal asked. “Will we be part of Europe? How? How will the economy run? How about trade? Who controls our borders?”

Eduard De Vilar is an activist from the left who organized a campaign urging people to vote but to mark neither yes nor no on the ballot. Instead, he said, they should leave it blank — to indicate their support for democracy but also their opposition to the bungled referendum.

“This is a big, big decision, very important. So we want a legal proper referendum, not this quickie thing,” Vilar said.

Vilar had worked as a pro-democracy activists in the Balkans in the 1990s. He is a proud Catalan but doesn’t like what he sees in the fierce nationalism of the region. “I’m afraid this will be the beginning of a kind of war. Not the Balkans. We are not militarized like there. But something I don’t like the feeling of either.”

The well-known Catalan film director Isabel Coixet, based in Barcelona, has been telling people for months that the referendum and the independence movement were getting this wrong.

“Half of the Catalans don’t want this,” she said in an interview.

“The international press has bought the Catalan politician’s narrative that’s been sold with a huge PR campaign and lots of money. And it seems that the rest of us don’t even exist. We are at least half of the Catalans, and we have no voice. No one is listening to us,” Coixet said.

Ignasi Guardans, a Catalan lawyer and former member of the European Parliament, said, “In any revolt, there are always some people who enjoy shouting and going into the street and demonstrating. And there are other people who just do not do that. And they are scared because the political and economic control of Catalonia is in the hands of the separatists, which doesn’t make them the majority — it makes them the people in control.”

Guardans said, “So we find ourselves attacking the referendum as a farce and a way to impose a model in an undemocratic way — it’s a Venezuelan kind of putsch — but that doesn’t make us supportive of Spanish police beating children in the street. That was a ridiculous thing to do, and it puts us in a very complicated position.”

Pamela Rolfe in Madrid contributed to this report.      

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