2018 is a very interesting time to live in Barcelona. As you may or may not already know, the region of Catalonia, along with its capital of Barcelona, is fighting for their independence from Spain. As United States citizens, we understand what political unrest feels like in our country, but it is very different to witness it in another.
I took a class before studying abroad that taught me all about Spain’s political history and what has happened recently regarding the Catalan independence movement, but being able to witness it is such a culturally significant scene.
On September 11, there is the regional holiday called “Día de Cataluña.” On this day, people who are pro-independence go to the streets to protest with the goal of getting the Spanish government’s attention and showing that they are still trying to push the independence movement forward.
In 2017, Catalonia held a vote for independence that was illegal in the eyes of the Spanish government. The vote had an outcome where the majority of the population voted for independence, but these numbers are reportedly inaccurate. The Spanish police were stationed at the voting areas and many acts of violence occurred. Only 43% of eligible citizens voted, probably those who felt very strongly about the Catalan independence movement, leading to a majority of independence voters. If the vote was held legally, it may still have had the same majority, but many of the non-independence voters would have come out as well.
This tension is very recent, so these protests are frequent. On the Día de Cataluña, I expected there to be protests, so I avoided the main areas of the city. There are some days that I go outside and see large groups of people wearing the Catalonian flag or the Spanish flag.
Being in Spain for a few months, I have the opportunity to meet people who have lived here their whole life to hear their opinion. Many people say Catalonia is not Spain because they have their own culture and language, and that Spain is trying to hold them back from progress. I have not lived here for years, so I do not have all the necessary facts to make my own opinion, but I can see that Catalonia has a long road in front of it in order to gain full independence.
While there is tension within the city, witnessing these scenes helps me understand both the Spanish and Catalan culture more and makes me realize that people are very passionate about what they believe in here. I am happy that I could be in Barcelona during a time of change, or push for change.
In ten years, when there is a decision made on this issue (hopefully), I will be able to say I witnessed this city in 2018 right after the major push for change started.