Playing with fire

In a television interview last weekend Spain’s ‘new’ Foreign Minister, Josep Borrell, talked of the “great tension” in Catalonia and warned that “we are on the brink of civil confrontation” in the region. In a radio interview yesterday Ciudadanos leader in Catalonia, Inés Arrimadas, wished to distance herself from such inflammatory language, but then went on to claim that “there is serious social breakdown which can only get worse, reaching a level of conflict that we cannot even imagine.” When Spanish unionist leaders peddle their narrative of ‘fracture’ and ‘division’ in Catalan society and foresee violence on the streets, they are acting irresponsibly. Or do they know something that we don’t know?

The pro-independence movement has been peaceful throughout its growth over the past seven years. Pro-independence leaders have always made it clear to supporters that violence is not acceptable. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the leaders of the unionist parties. Supporters of independence in Catalonia have frequently suffered verbal abuse and violent attacks from the emboldened members of both far-right groups – so numerous in Catalonia – and a new kind of radical unionist activist prepared to act in Catalonia’s public spaces to destroy signs of solidarity with Catalonia’s political prisoners. The yellow ribbons and banners that remember those jailed for their beliefs have been like a red rag to a bull.

This intimidation is borne out of general Spanish nationalist intolerance for Catalanism and, in recent times, any symbol protesting the situation of these prisoners, and it has been suffered without violent response. Unionist leaders have not condemned these attacks. Instead they have spent their time trying, without success, to find evidence of independentist violence. And, no, graffiti does not count.

In advance, Borrell and Arrimadas seem to be justifying more violent attacks on independentists. The lack of condemnation of previous attacks from unionist leaders has been irresponsible and makes their statements sound like threats. Unionists’ phobia for any public display of beliefs that are not Spanish nationalist is no excuse for violence past or present. Mixed messages are not good enough. Inventing and promoting division is not good enough. Unequivocal condemnation of all violence on either side of the ideological divide is the only acceptable message to send. Ideological division is a normal part of any healthy society. Social division only results from intolerance of the ‘other’ and the Catalans are a very tolerant and long-suffering people.

If any of the unionist leaders’ words or the fascist chat on social media are to be believed, people would be well-advised to give public viewings of La Roja’s World Cup matches and all Spanish nationalist demonstrations a very wide berth.

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