a spin in Spain

Islamabad – Jose Martinez bangs his hand on the steering wheel a few times. He is my taxi ride from Barcelona international airport to the hotel. It worries me, so I ask “What’s bothering you?”

To my surprise, he laughs back, “I am not upset, it’s the commentator on the radio who is not asking the right questions from the pro-independence candidate running in the Catalonia elections” he answers. Jose is going to vote for pro-independence party Junts per Cataluyina headed by the ex-Catalina President Carles Puigdemont. He believes that Catalonia has been supporting and feeding the Madrid government for a long time. “We don’t need money to survive as our region is one of the highest revenue contributors in Spanish economy with an incessant flow of wealth. I have been driving a cab for the last 20 years. Barcelona is one of the busiest tourist destinations in Europe with approximately 18 million tourists a year. We can do well on our own,” he gives me quick fact check.

Alejandro Fernando, manager at the famous Tapas restaurant at La Rambla which not so long ago witnessed a siege, believes that media has manipulated the minds of the Catalonians.

“The results will be 50/50.There will be no absolute majority. I have been to the rallies of ERC which is pro-independence and also to Ciudadanos and the socialists (PSC). All these parties are running against each other”, he says. 

Voter on the street seems to be divided just like the prognosticators.

“I don’t want to see turmoil anymore. It’s already a difficult task to earn and put food on the table for my family. With elections, results, followed by parties trying to form the government, we are already heading towards economic upheaval,” comments a vendor running a chestnut cart near Plaza Catalonia, a site that can be termed the equivalent of D chock of Islamabad. 

Pro-independence workers see these elections as the dawn of a new era. “With our government, we will have better jobs and high preferences,” informs one activist speaking at his pro-Independence Party Office, ERC. 

The Muslim community in Catalonia surprisingly makes a 15 percent of the voter’s population. However, there is slight fear and concern among the Muslim community that the separatist crises which have surely helped in awakening Spanish nationalism will eventually create problems in the coming years. 

The political pundits at one of the party offices have predicted a marginal win for the pro-Independence parties like, CUP, ERC and Junts per Catalunya but not enough to form a government.

Having said that, if push comes to shove, a three-party coalition will bring back the pro-independence faces to the governing seat. Interesting that both parties leading the ERC and Jants X Catalunya are out of sight, one in the jail and the other in self-exile, something a Pakistani political leader is accustomed too. 

Catalina came under direct rule of Madrid when its President Carles Puigdemont declared independence in October, causing an upheaval in the Western world.US President Donald Trump and other European states didn’t waste any time in rejecting the declaration. Spanish Prime Minister, Marino Rajoy whose government too has weathered many political storms in the last seven years of rule could not have asked for more support. His government brought Catalina under the direct control and also announced elections.

This is another political reality that hits home. The referendum declaring Catalonia an independent state was termed invalid and put the party leaders behind bars. But the story does not end here. The last ruling government head Carles Puigdemont left for Brussels to fight his case with the EU as Spanish Government nullified the independence. Spanish courts came into action charging many of Carles Puigdemont’s Party ministers for treason and rebellion and Puigdemont himself was charged in exile.

The law took its course, and the Spanish court gave a deadline to Carles Piedmont to appear and also requested the Belgium government to extradite Puigdemont to Spain. This sounds much like we are trying to bring Ishaq Dar to Pakistan. However sanity prevailed, his colleagues were exonerated, some charges were dropped and a few released on bail. 

Many analysts supporting the Madrid government believe that the referendum in itself has already done the damage since around 3000 firms have moved their headquarters from Catalonia to other parts of Spain. This will surely affect the economy of Barcelona.

Apart from pro-independence and unionist parties, there also exists a group seeking a middle ground in the existing scenario. It is believed that whatever the results may be, Madrid and Barcelona will not see each other eye to eye. This group is working on damage control.

“Let Catalonia stay the way it was before the referendum and Madrid government will show more flexibility,” says Dolores 

In comes, Inés Arrimadas, a 36 year old educated and enthusiastic leader of a centrist anti-independent party called “Ciudadanos “ and many believe in that she will be the game changer. Inés Arrimadas is like a Benazir Bhutto in the making.

The Election Day in Catalonia was not a gazetteers holiday unlike in Pakistan. Even then the turnout was 80 percent. The Catalans took rides, buses, subways and other means of transport to go vote during lunch hours. The ballots were open until late, and many made their way to the voting corners located on the outskirts of their workplace. 

No buses were arranged by any party to bring voters to the polling booths; a strong testimony of a civilized society. 

“There are no two options on the fact that the Catalonia elections will have a far-reaching effect not only in de-shaping the Spanish map but of Europe as well” 

There seem to be many problems ahead regardless of whoever forms the government. The pro-independence want to be out of EU. According to one theory, if Catalonia doesn’t remain a part of Spain, it doesn’t have to go through the trouble of filing for divorce, because it’s already accepted. 

The referendum in October enmeshed in bitter recrimination. It’s going to be a rollercoaster ride not just for the Catalans but the people of Madrid as well. What a way to welcome 2018!

 –The writer is a freelance





ab khan

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