Photos by Inés and Sílvia.
On October 1st 2017, 2.26 million of Catalans stepped into their polling centres to decide on the future of their region. The referendum, considered illegal by the Spanish government, provoked an enormous controversy after 90% of the voters responded positively to whether or not they wanted the region to be independent.
The uncountable manifestations and the constant presence of law enforcement that followed the event produced a chaotic atmosphere in the whole region and most particularly in Barcelona, capital of Catalonia. As an international economics and politics student, my daily activities have a direct and indirect global aspect. Furthermore, I live with seven people none of whom are originally from the United Kingdom. My focus therefore shifted very quickly to my Catalan friends and how they experienced such events while being abroad. Anna and Sílvia were both born and raised in Barcelona and are currently students at Lancaster University. They accepted to talk about their experience living the referendum from abroad.
They agree that whilst in Catalonia, the situation was complicated and quite confusing. Silvia explains that they “had a few very difficult days” and that her emotions were somewhere “between proud and powerless. Proud of seeing that people in Catalonia responded to difficulties and how many of them came to the streets to protest but sad and powerless to see that Catalans’ feelings were ignored and unfairly treated by the Spanish government.” Whilst the Catalan pride was augmenting in people’s hearts, the “hatred for the Spanish government was increasing” (states Anna) due to severe law enforcement in the streets. Nearly 900 people were injured by the police trying to prevent them from voting. According to Anna, this violence against Catalans is what pushed over 2 million people to vote for independence.
The main difference about experiencing this abroad, according to Anna, is the reassuring distance. She explains that living in the U.K. made her feel proud of her origins and identity and that being able to go away from the intensity of the events was comforting. She asserts that she is now more patriotic and realises the difference between being Spanish and Catalan more strongly.
On the other hand, they highlight the difficulties of finding trustworthy information about their city’s situation whilst in the U.K. For Anna, everything is too “black and white”; most information is either 100% nationalist or anti-dependence with no in between, hence the struggle to know who to trust. Sílvia takes a more positive stance but also admits to depend on her family for reliable information.
In this critical moment for Catalonia, living abroad is both reassuring and upsetting. Stuck between the serenity of being away from the chaos and the discomfort of being powerless when their own future is involved, over 200,000 Catalans are experiencing the same political phenomenon from afar. Although Sílvia and Anna both went back home to vote, a dominant number of Catalans were not able to do so; only 7% of those living abroad were able to have a voice in the referendum, an issue that ought to be addressed by politicians for future elections.
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