Barcelona, Spain: The Catalan government says 90% of voters in the banned independence referendum chose to split from Spain. In the aftermath of the vote, 700,000 people demonstrated against police violence on referendum day. The region is awash in displays of the Catalan flag.
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has suggested that Catalans are more united than ever, but behind the pictures and the numbers, there is a more nuanced story. The referendum has not only exposed the divisions between Catalonia and Spain, but those within Catalonia itself.
Turnout was only about 43%, meaning that fewer than half of the roughly 5 million Catalans on the electoral roll chose to split from Spain. A few hundred Catalans joined a small rally in Barcelona on Wednesday night to voice their opposition to the separatist movement. Another demonstration is planned for the weekend.
People who attended this week’s demonstration told CNN they feared the crisis would result in violence on the streets — and that some who oppose independence are afraid to speak out.
Javi Pacheco, who works in advertising and marketing, said he did not believe in independence for the northeastern region.
“I don’t because what is the reason? Spain steals from us? I like Sevillian traditional dance, I like Granada, I love the whole of Andalusia, I like the north of Spain, I love Catalonia, and I love all Spanish people and that is why I think that the independence movement is a manipulation of our feelings which doesn’t get us anywhere.
“It’s true that we need to listen to each other, but the debate needs to be in the Spanish Parliament.”
Pacheco said he valued the country’s laws and institutions.
“I am here for people like me who defend Spain and love Catalonia and we think that it is thanks to the constitution that we have been able to live in a totally legal framework,” he said. “Being Spanish doesn’t mean being a fascist.”
He has been saddened to see the events of the past few weeks and the divisions that have arisen between friends and families.
“It’s sad to lose friendships just because you think in a different way. The problem here now is that there seems to be only one point of view and the central government hasn’t done much to stop this happening. Sometimes staying silent is reckless, as is trying to give rational solutions to a problem that is emotional.”
He believes the rest of Spain should send a “message of love” to all Catalans, welcome them to the Spanish Parliament and give them the right to talk.
Susana Andrés, 45, accused politicians of lying to Catalans and leading them toward a “war in the streets.”
“I am Catalan and Spanish. I do not want to break Catalan society in the way it’s happening now. We lived very well, Catalan people all united, and they have turned things into what you can see, what you have seen the last few weeks. Politicians are to blame; we the citizens were living very well,” she said.
“I hope that the government will be able to stop all this. This revolution in the streets. I hope the politicians will come to their senses. That they have common sense. Because we were living freely in a democracy and this has become a jungle.”
Andrés, whose family-run graphic-design business closed as a result of Spain’s recent economic crisis, said she believes talking is the solution to the crisis. “Never violence. But talks need to be inside the law,” she said.
She said police were just trying to do their job on the day of referendum, when violent clashes left hundreds of people injured as officers tried to prevent the banned vote from going ahead.
Andrés has felt “very unsafe” for the past few days, fearing the situation may become violent if people come out into the streets.
“Everyone [who is against independence] is quiet because they are afraid. They have very strong marketing, the politicians and the regional government, they do it very well,” she said. “It’s no longer politicians that are at stake, not the police that is at stake. That is not the matter. What’s at stake are the people on the streets.”
Carlos, a 57-year-old business owner who preferred to give only his first name for fear of repercussions, is concerned about the potential economic impact of the referendum.
His suppliers are from across Spain and Europe and he’s worried that with independence, his business accounts could be frozen. “From an economic point of view it would be a total disaster,” he said.
“As a company owner, I and many of my friends who have small or medium-sized companies, are moving their physical and fiscal headquarters outside Catalonia. And not just that, we are also moving our bank accounts elsewhere, just in case.
“The consequences of Catalonia detaching from Spain are, first of all, we would find ourselves out of the EU… We wouldn’t be in, we would be out, even though people in favor of independence want us to believe that Catalonia would stay in and that the European Union is eager for Catalonia to be part of it. But that’s not true.”
Carlos believes the Spanish state — which has the power to dissolve the Catalan government and call new elections — should act. “I feel a brutal divide, I feel that those who are not independentists are singled out. And let’s not forget that [those who voted] are 2 million — Catalonia has 7 million. But they’re the loudest. I am not afraid — but I am very worried.”
Amanda Garcia, a 24-year-old flight attendant, is opposed to independence but thinks a legal, nationwide referendum should be held.
“I am here to call for the unity of Spain because what is happening is illegal and Catalonia should always be a part of Spain,” she said.
“I think they could do it [the referendum] but in a legal way, not the way they did it, by breaking the law left and right, with people voting more than one time, without any kind of order, or consensus… and there has to be a punishment. It’s like if you rob a bank, you have to pay the consequences and go to prison.”