What’s happening in Catalonia

Passions about ethnicity, about autonomy, about freedom, about where you are from, are for many people, including myself, part of the fire that courses through the blood. But the practicalities about how best to achieve real freedom, real autonomy, real global recognition of your community, though a much colder and a much more complex work, are far more important.

It was terrible watching scenes of the police in Barcelona throwing people down the steps of polling booths. I believe their actions, which I’m sure were in line with their orders, are inexcusable. It seems certain that the reaction by the Spanish government in ordering the police to do this and the way they have responded to this referendum since it was first announced is both wrong-headed and guaranteed to have bolstered and galvanised the independence movement in Catalonia.

I say this because that is what happened here – sort of. In 1916 a group of men and women (mostly men) in Dublin attempted a rebellion against British rule in Ireland. I say attempted because the Easter Rising of 1916 was not successful. And when it broke out the majority of the people in the country weren’t seeking independence from Britain. That changed. That changed because of how the British government reacted to it. They were brutal. We believed that we were going to get Home Rule – parliament restored to Dublin – after WWI, and so have more control over our state. But then the response to the rising was swift and so harsh that it suddenly was apparent that we weren’t being slowly granted our freedom, we were being placated. We were still under the iron rule of a colonial power. Their uncompromising stance and reaction galvanised support for independence here.

Of course it’s possible to take a different view of the British response to the Irish Rising. They were in the middle of war, the Great War, and the trouble-making Irish having the audacity and lack of loyalty to mount an uprising at such a time demanded a furious and uncompromising response.

And the rest is history.

I am glad we built our Republic. It’s done quite well. I’m proud of it. Ireland is now a modern forward-looking country that still retains its own particular (and sometimes peculiar) perspective. I wouldn’t change history if I could. Even though it left our island divided and it was a struggle. But without the support and recognition of other states, in particular the US and later the all important EEC/EU, I don’t know where we’d be.

And it has to be said the ties we had to the UK weren’t exactly severed. Our old currency, the punt, was tied to Britain’s sterling. We have a common travel agreement allowing people to move within minimal restrictions between the UK and Ireland and bi-lateral social security agreements, both of which predate our entry in the EEC. There are lots of people in the England, Scotland and Wales who can claim Irish heritage. About 112,000 UK citizens are currently living in the Republic. Lots of Irish people live in the UK. I don’t consider British people in any way foreign. And if I ever found myself in trouble in a foreign country that didn’t have an Irish embassy, probably the first place I’d contact would be the British embassy.

I’m glad that these 26 counties are a republic. But the fact that 6 counties that make up Northern Ireland are part of the UK doesn’t make the people there any less Irish – unless they happen to want it to. Because of the situation here with Northern Ireland I don’t believe your nationality is determined by who rules you – and what really matters is developing systems of government and administration of states and localities so that no one is really ruled, instead these systems protect and represent the rights and interests of the people.

Obviously we don’t have that system yet. Yet. Yes, I’m sure it’s possible – more than possible, it’s necessary.

I love Spain. It’s an amazing country with a very interesting history. I’ve only visited a small part of it. On the mainland I’ve been to Barcelona, Figueres, Madrid, Bilbao and San Sebastian – so that’s Catalonia, the Castilian Central Plateau (had to look that up), and the Basque country. The Catalan language is very present in Barcelona as is Euskara in the Basque country.

The first place I visited on mainland Spain was Barcelona. It is such a great place. If you haven’t been there – go. It’s great. There’s something very individualistic and a little bit anarchic about the place. I love Gaudi’s  stuff – the Park Güell and the dragon house (Casa Batlló). I loved the mishmash of different architectural styles throughout the city. I also went to the Joan Miró art centre (Fundació Joan Miró) which is also well worth the visit. There was an exhibition about anarchy and how new ideas on society influenced and were a catalyst for modern art. It was very interesting and really sparked my interest in anarchy.

I shed a couple of tears watching the police pushing back voters and protestors. Admittedly I cry pretty easily. But I think it was also remembering the videos and photos from the terrorist attack in August in Barcelona. I saw many photos and videos of the police being really caring and brave in the face of a senseless attack.

Also there were photos on social media comparing the actions of the police yesterday to police action under Franco. I think that’s unfair. But I also think the order to have the police stop voters was completely unfair. Not only to the people protesting and trying to vote but also to the police.

Why is it so difficult for people in governments, or the heads of any organisations, to be straightforward and honest about situations? Informed, honest and straightforward – the ingredients for real communication. Like would it really be so impossible for the Spanish government to say “Listen Catalonia, we cannot afford economically for you to separate from us. And neither can you. Now, accepting that reality, let’s discuss what we can do.”

If you’re from Catalonia and reading this – thank you for reading (do try some of the recipes:-) – and you’re thinking “It’s not about economics! It’s about our independence!” Yes. But our whole world is interdependent. And our whole world is, I believe, on the cusp of a massive change. We are moving into a new era. It’s not just the climate that’s changing, it’s our very way of life. You just have to look at recent advances in robotics and artificial intelligence to see that.

I’m not worried about a robot takeover in the sense that they end up ruling us. It may be possible to create intelligence but it’s desire not intelligence that pushes us to do things like that. I don’t believe real desire can be replicated – only imitated. It seems very possible though that robots could take over many jobs. And really wouldn’t it be great if robots did do all the manual work, the hard slogs? Of course looking at our world today, where people in the developed world wouldn’t move into accommodation that didn’t have a washing machine or a fridge or any of the appliances we rely on, while in other parts of the world there are people still washing clothes in rivers, who don’t have access to a reliable source of electricity, never mind having a washing machine or a fridge. In such a world there is no reason to expect that bounties of these new technologies will be shared with us all. And with the growing gap between rich and poor within developed nations as well as globally, that really is a worry. Imagine a world where the force protecting the status quo are robots…

What has this got to do with the issue of Catalonian independence? Because maybe our independence and freedom is threatened – not so much by advances in technology – but by our failure so far to create a more just and equitable world. Is there a different kind of freedom and independence that we should be striving for? Something more permanent, more universal for mankind? Not tied to one group. For us all.

I know questions of ethnicity run deep. And what I’m talking about may seem beside the point. But please consider it.

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