In English Voices From Spain

Catalunya versus Cataluña*: the Groundhog Day

Photo by Adrien Olichon on Unsplash

Originally published in Spanish: «Catalunya versus Cataluña: el día de la marmota». Marco Hulsewe. Expansión.

October 5, 2018

The author writes about the degeneration of politics and social coexistence in Catalonia one year after the secessionist coup d’état of October 2017.

Between September 6th and October 27th, 2017, we lived the first slow motion attempted self-coup d’état inside the European Union, as it was explained by the Dutch journalist and writer Steven Adolf in Volkskrant. No matter I already anticipated in other piece at Expansión during these days that almost certainly the attempted coup would fail to fully succeed, the harm to the Catalan civil society and its economy will be long lasting. I feared the social division and the installation of a perception of risk for investors. All this have happened during a year. We all are one year older, with some grey hair and some kilos added. As it usually happens during Christmas and anniversaries, we take a look back thinking on how the year unfolded.

Looking back, many things have happened in Barcelona. After the coup attempt, came the intervention of Catalan regional government; new regional elections; more than 4,550 companies moved their headquarters to other autonomous communities; 30 billion deposits were transferred to other places… Good or not so good things, depending on who looks at them.

For neighbor communities, such as Aragon and Valencia, it’s been a very good year. As I said on a recent meeting in Alicante in front of the “Family Business Association”, never has anybody done so much to attract companies to Valencia as the former president of Generalitat** did in Barcelona. He deserves a sculpture or some square in Valencia or Aragon. Also in Barcelona it’s been a good year. Town major Ada Colau, that had promised to fend off tourism, has been able to present a fall in hotels occupancy and a drop on income of -14% vs Summer 2017. Surely the raise on crime rates (20%) may have helped to achieve this, putting Barcelona as Spain’s no. 1 before Madrid, which has double inhabitants.

With regards to Catalunya, progress have been made too. A kind of label has been introduced: the ‘lazis’***. An identifier a good patriots fostered by Generalitat in cooperation with the majority of Catalan town councils and with associations like Òmnium Cultural and ANC, that allows to identify them on the streets. Decent people that can be safely hired by the public or semi-public sector. Those citizens lacking a ribbon (the ‘sinlazo’) can be doubted about their levels of patriotism and commitment to the Catalan republic. Besides, many of them may have a rough patch in their DNA, according to current president of the regional government.


Neighborhood organizations have been created, the CDR, as homage to the Comités de Defensa de la Revolución Cubana, so helpful to support the president in avoiding public demonstrations of the sinlazo in flagship places as the Sant Jaume square and its surroundings. This week, by the way, the CDR insulted and threatened the elected representatives of the majority of the citizens of Catalonia at the gates of the regional Parliament in front of the astonished ayes of the – very few – regional police members. Business as usual, you know.

On a smaller scale, we have been able to deepen in the knowledge of our fellow persons, and as a rule we already know the ideas of our next door neighbor, our kid’s teacher or our job colleagues. We have been allowed to regroup friendships and relations more and more tribal on the purest Belgian style, with Flemish and Walloons living some kind of couple separation, sharing the same roof. We can always talk about football or the weather with the members of the other tribe, but never about the elephant inside the room. All these great raw materials for the future book by Fernando Aramburu about the Catalan motherland.

No matter all these are relevant news for Catalonia and its citizens, the rest of humankind keeps minding their own business and seem to have lost any interest.  

For professional reasons, I increasingly travel to places like Amsterdam, Hamburg, Lisbon or Madrid. Funnily enough, in these exotic places we talk just about business, investments, the competency, etc. We don’t talk about nations, or independence, but about how can we do business together, cooperate by buying companies in France, selling them in Portugal, etc.: European integration of people and corporations. Amsterdam thanks Barcelona for the gift of the European Medicines Agency: investment 300 million and 2,400 (in)direct jobs.  Opening on January 1st, 2019.

Therefore, when I come back to Cataluña after those trips, it’s hard not to think of Bill Murray’s ‘The Groundhog Day”. The rest of the world moves – and will keep on moving – forward, but in the Catalan Republic, with its identity loop, the groundhog scene is repeated again and again.

Hopefully at some moment the Catalan society will wake up from this dream or nightmare, depending on how it’s looked at, to realize that only counting on the others you can move forward. Anybody alone is no one on this increasingly globalized and connected world. Populists and storytellers are not going to feed us. They only take care of themselves, as pigs at Orwell’s Animal Farm, written after his stay in Barcelona.

*“Cataluña”, Spanish, and “Catalunya”, Catalan, both for Catalonia (TN)

**Catalan regional government

***Secessionists identify themselves wearing yellow ribbons (‘lazos’ in Spanish). ‘Lazis’ mixes ‘Nazi’ and ‘Lazos’

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