Observations from Catalunya

Iain McDermott was the official international observer for the Celtic League in Catalunya for the referendum vote on independence, which was held there on 1st October 2017. He travelled to Catalunya with his partner, Helen, on 29th September and stayed there until 4th October. The aim of Iain’s visit was to observe events leading up to the referendum vote at first hand and to ensure that the Catalan right to self-determination was respected by the Spanish authorities. Iain’s role was to report back to the Celtic League about what he witnessed in the event of any human rights breaches. Iain will be writing a full report to be published in the next issue of ‘Carn’, but for the moment he has given his permission for us to publish one of his emails.

As Iain indicates in his first paragraph, the situation developing in Catalunya worries the Spanish authorities and it highlights how sabotage and illegal behaviour is preferential to the truth being known to the outside world. This is one of the main reasons why it is so important for the international community to take notice about what is happening in Catalunya and the right of the Catalan people to push for self-determination. Pressure needs to be applied to the Spanish authorities to respect the inalienable right of the Catalan people to strive for independence should they so choose.

A lightly edited version of Iain’s email follows below.

“Firstly I must apologise for … not replying to any of your e-mails in the last weeks…but further to advice I received some weeks ago from within Catalonia it was very important to keep a low profile prior to my trip; as a result I have been keeping a low on-line profile. I will explain the reasons, but only face to face and not via e-mail, as the situation in Catalonia is very fluid to say the least. Some of my precautions were justified, as I received a “nice surprise” when I logged on-line to my pc on Thursday morning; but it was a very clumsy attempt, probably with the intention of removing the photos and films or any information I had made while in Catalonia. Fortunately, I know how to play “the game”, so no damage done and anyway I mostly work off-line and make multiple copies of important information.

Just to give you a quick summary of what we got up to while we were in Barcelona…I will provide more comprehensive details as well as photos and films (I also have 2 Catalonian newspapers from both Monday and Wednesday, which I will send you to keep in an archive)…but as you know this situation has long way to go and even before we left there was common talk that the violence of the 1st of October was just a simple rehearsal of what is to come and very reluctantly and with a heavy heart I tend to agree. I think we are now seeing what would have happened if Scotland had voted Yes in 2014; it certainly would not have been “well done old chap, let’s have a coffee and cake and get down to the business of fairly sorting out our assets and liabilities and have a jolly good piss up on the official Scottish Independence date and shake hands and agree to continue as friendly neighbouring nations”. Being optimistic, maybe it will increase the percentage for independence in Scotland; but I am afraid that with the present threats of removing banks and businesses from Catalonia, that some people will simply think of their wallets rather than their nations wellbeing. I truly hope I am wrong.

Our time in Barcelona has been very emotionally draining; but the Catalan people we have met have really impressed us with their quiet, calm and determined approach to the historical moment their nation was facing; we saw some older people opening crying, saying that they thought this day would never come. In fact I felt very guilty having to leave Catalonia and return home. The Catalan people have a brilliant sense of humour and we saw that they enjoy a good bit of banter. It was so surprising how similar it was to being in Scotland; although I don’t think people in Scotland would have stood in their many thousands for hours both to vote and to passively resist the extreme violence against them. The Catalan people of all ages from the young to the old knew that if they even resorted to a single act of retaliation this would be immediately flashed around the world as evidence that the only people who wanted Catalonian independence were violent extremists. Their bravery and calm determination to finally claim their own nation back cannot easily be explained in writing. I could only think of the words used by Rommel, when talking about the 51st Highland Division at St Valery in June of 1940 when he said that he never met, at any time in his military career, any braver men than whose he faced at St Valery “None Braver”. I said this to my contact (I will provide names when I receive permission to do so, for obvious reasons) in Barcelona on Tuesday evening, when we spoke by phone in a very emotional phone call, I think for both of us.

I have had some thoughts about maybe how we, the Celtic League, could help in some way and my thoughts turned to the International Brigade formed in 1936 and involving many people from our nations to go and fight the Fascists against overwhelming odds. I can tell you they are still remembered in Catalonia. Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting an armed response, rather using our connections, both within the Celtic nations and with many other small nations, to form a political and cultural International Brigade. I think even by using this name in our support, it would be greatly appreciated in Catalonia and would show them that they will never be abandoned by us despite the overwhelming odds they have against them from the larger countries and international corporations. It is only a thought, but being in Catalonia this last week, has evoked memories of everything I have read about the situation in 1930’s Spain; when all the large powerful nations stood by, pretending neutrality, while actively supporting Franco to destroy a country that had elected a democratic Republic and by using extensive propaganda, turning them from victims into the oppressor, reversing factual events they well aware of.

I know this may be just be an emotional response on my part to the events I witnessed; but I think some practical response should be taken by the Celtic League to show support for Catalonia and an evocative name such as the International Brigade would certainly bring attention around the world and maybe focus ordinary people’s minds as well as large powerful countries that we will refuse to let the history of 80 years ago be repeated.

Timeline

Thursday 29th Sept: we arrived in the late afternoon and found that everything was very calm both at the airport and in the city itself, although there were plenty of flags, banners etc on most buildings.

Friday 29th Sept: I tried to get into a press conference that was being held within the Catalonian parliament building, no luck there but we were sent to the Catalonian Foreign affairs department, where I showed the Celtic League accreditation (that was very useful…) and after they registered our Identity cards, we eventually … spoke with the person responsible for foreign observers just to get a bit of clarity to the ongoing situation. Talking about how calm everything seemed to be, I was told that the ordinary people were quietly determined and although things were tense they were dealing with it well. We then went on to a private meeting, which I will tell you about off-line and we then went to the planned mass demonstration on the Placa Espanya (Spanish Square), which was chosen deliberately, [and] is also a good large place to have events,…at 7.00pm. We arrived about 1 hour before the event officially started and stayed for around 2 hours (we watched the rest of the demonstration on TV). There was a fantastic atmosphere and everyone was relaxed and happy and it was quite emotional when the EU anthem, Ode to Joy, was sung; but with Catalan words.

Saturday 30th Sept: After making arrangements for the next day, Helen and myself did a bit of sightseeing.

Sunday 1st Oct Referendum Day: after watching the horrific scenes of violence on Catalan TV, we travelled out to a voting station in a Barcelona suburb, according to local people a strong Fascist area. We arrived about 1.00pm and it was raining very heavily; there were hundreds of people standing patiently outside the voting station (a local school) and along the roads who had already been there for hours waiting calmly to vote; there were a couple of police vans; but they just kept a watching brief from a distance. We met up with our local contact and joined the masses waiting to vote and were taken through the crowd to the entrance of the voting station and then something very humbling took place as our contact called for quiet (there was a lot of singing and cheering going on) and he introduced Helen and myself to the crowd and everyone started cheering; it was very emotional. We spent the next few hours chatting with people; …

The queues of people waited patiently to go into the voting station; the delay in voting was caused not just by the number of people, but the fact that the Spanish government were trying to continually take down the electronic voting registration system and the Catalan government kept bringing it back up again. Anyway some people had brought their sandwiches and a few brought chairs, but most were quite happily standing waiting; it was like a party atmosphere, at one point the decision was made to pack everyone together as tightly as possible to ensure that in the case of problems, the National police or more worryingly the Guardia Civil could not reach the entrance to the voting station; but thankfully there were no further problems.

We then left and on the way back to where we were staying we went to another voting station, where the road had been blocked by people; again it appeared that there had been no problems of police violence. Where ever we went that day there seemed to be a quiet determination to keep things normal and although people were really upset at the violence and the many injures, they were determined to vote. We watched the results coming in on TV, with the first results coming in very quickly. There was again a mass gathering of people and when the results were announced they cheered, sang the Catalonian anthem, which we could not hear clearly as the TV announcer kept talking… I don’t think this was deliberate in any way as I think the whole purpose was to keep everything as normal as possible.

Monday 2nd Oct: Everything very quiet in Barcelona (hangover day); but there were a lot of happy contented people about. A national strike had been called for the next day, in protest at the Spanish government. We went in the main tourist area of the city and were fortunate while sitting outside a cafe to see one of the convoys of Spanish National police vans trying to leave the city proceeded by many locals on motorbikes and cars blowing their horns and driving very slowly and being jeered every step of the way; at one stage a rubbish wagon cut into their convoy (I have got this on film).

Tuesday 3rd Oct: We watched on TV as all strategic roads were blocked throughout Catalonia, including the border with France; there was a great photo shown on TV of a young couple sitting at a table playing chess in the mid lane of a totally deserted motorway. We then watched as part of the large crowds came along by where we were staying on the Carrer Arag; it was very impressive and in the second part of the march (the march was deliberately split up into tightly packed sections) it consisted mostly of school and college students and their parents, some from the schools damaged by the Spanish police. Strangely enough the National police were absent when they went by, although they had been closely following the pervious section, until an old man walked across the road with his zimmer frame in front of the National Police holding them up. At the end of the march I [had a ] short conversation with a policeman of the Guardia Urbana (the local town police) who had been smiling and waving to the people passing by. When I told him I was from Scotland and had come to support the referendum, he shook my hand like mad and posed for a photo, so that I could prove that there were happy police officers in Catalonia.

In Barcelona alone the official figure was that 700,000 who attended this one demonstration, although the German TV channel ZDF, quoted 730,000, as did RT; while the UK newspaper the Guardian stated that the official figure was 300,000, a bit of a difference. They also ‘miss quoted’ (downwards of course) the other official attendance figures for other major towns; there were also a number of other misleading facts, with the result that I already raised a formal complaint to the Guardian International Editor, Jamie Wilson, quoting deliberate misrepresentation of facts; what I called outright lies (please see attached file).

After watching the march pass by we had a walk around the local area and in the next parallel street, to the route of the march; we found the local people taking their children to a play park and the cafes all full of people enjoying the day off! Later that afternoon we met two girls of university age, who had attended the march and we ended up chatting with them for over a hour, until one of the girl’s mother called to find out where she was, worried that she had been involved in some trouble. That evening we spent the time outside a restaurant blethering with an architect from Slovakia, with his daughter who is shortly to begin her university studies in Barcelona. He told us that he was in Cuba, when Fidel Castro died and now in Catalonia to witness another historic event.
While we were at the restaurant we witnessed the nightly “Cassolades” at exactly 9.00 pm when the Spanish King Philip Vi (or “the whatever”, as he is commonly known…[this] is comparable to Scotland with the constant incorrect reference to a Queen Elizabeth the Second. The Catalonians are only on their Philip number 5; so to prevent confusion the title of ‘whatever’ seems appropriate).

The Cassolades I have mentioned is a nightly protest consisting of the local people (only a few usually for each apartment block) coming onto their balconies and banging their pots and pans for 20 minutes; this took place at exactly 10.00 pm; but they made an exception on Tuesday to change to 9.00 pm, to coincide with the Spanish King starting his speech and all around us it appeared that the entire local population took part in the Cassolades and they kept in going throughout the time ‘Philip the Whatever’ spoke, which was for 5 minutes and they started again when his speech was re-run a few minutes later. Once the coverage had finished, so did the Cassolades and everyone went back to normal; this was something we found very impressive and very moving.

Wednesday 4th Oct: We left for the airport at around 11.00 am, earlier than we needed to, but as some roads were to be blocked again we did not want to take the chance of having any problems getting our flight home… Everything was perfectly normal at the airport including the security check and even our Brussels Airlines flight was exactly on time both departing Barcelona and arriving at Brussels; this was the first time this has ever happened to us. Our outgoing flight was 1 hour late leaving which is about normal for this airline…

I will never forget what I have experienced in Barcelona; but it is something I feel very privileged to have been part of.

Finally I thought it would be useful to provide a explanation of how Catalonia came to the point of having this Independence referendum, as the media seem totally unaware of the real facts, preferring to mention the “Franco times” as something that is just a memory of history and are very vague about recent events. It was mentioned to me that if you compare the people involved in the Spanish government today you will mostly [see] the same names as of 100 years ago; which I found a frightening thought…
Here is a link to a short YouTube video made in 2015, that I think you will find very interesting and funny, even if you don’t understand any of the languages being spoken:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2P8m6uXZNQ

Best regards, I will try and keep you informed as and when I receive further information from Catalonia.

Iain”

Rhisiart Tal-e-bot
General Secretary
Celtic League
18/10/17

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