Foreign friends

Among the legions of tourists that throng the streets of Barcelona these days are a group of around 400 visitors from around the world who are spending 8 to 11 September in Catalonia on a short break that, as well as city tours, museum and archeological visits, classes on Catalan cuisine, wine-tasting and events in neighbouring towns, also takes in conferences, prison visits, lunches and suppers in solidarity with Catalan political prisoners, and which will culminate in Tuesday’s Diada celebrations – the Catalan national day.

All were invited by Foreign Friends of Catalonia, the brainchild of Pat Vila from Barcelona, as a thank you for their interest, compassion and support throughout the hardest of years. Many are being hosted by Catalan households that have volunteered to make their stay much more than the now standard Barcelona theme park experience – a taste of the real Catalonia so ignored by the media. Not your typical disinterested tourist; tourism with a soul.

These visitors are interested in Catalan language, culture and history, unlike so many who have lived here all their lives. And most importantly they are horrified at what the Catalans have suffered, the level of repression Catalan society has been subject to, appalled at the inaction of the EU and the twisted versions of reality they are fed by mainstream Spanish and international media, curious to see and hear what is really happening.

During yesterday they had been unlucky enough to see a few thousand Spanish nationalists in action in a demonstration full of tension and hatred, of fascist flags, symbols and stiff-armed salutes, and of course the regulation insults and assaults. Associated Press in Madrid ignored the important fact that the unpleasant rally was organised by fascist groups. They got an opportunity to see with their own eyes where the fascism and the violence is coming from.

Later in the day, while some of the visitors took part in a discussion about the Catalan situation over beers, Rafael Minder, correspondent for the New York Times, published one of the most ill-informed pieces on the situation to appear in a major international daily so far.

More sense was talked by each and every one of the attendees at the discussion than the Madrid-based journalist in the past eight years. The Spanish government should be proud of the work of these hacks. The international and Spanish media have worked hand-in-hand to control agenda and narrative. On social media, however, they have been less successful. Minder’s article received fewer retweets than those criticising his work in the comments section.

The foreign friends discussed the anti-fascist nature of the Catalan secessionist movement and the bias of the media available to them in an act of solidarity with the Catalan people.
Maleïdes les Guerres (Damned Wars) performed a version of Martin Niemöller’s poem about the cowardice of intellectuals in not standing up to Nazism:

First they came…

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a communist

When they imprisoned the social democrats, I did not speak out because I wasn’t a social democrat

When they came for the trade unionists, I did not protest because I was not a trade unionist

When they came for the Jews, I did not speak out because I was not a Jew

When they came for the puppeteers, I did not speak out because I was not a puppeteer

When they came for the clown, I did not speak out because I was not a clown

When they came for the rapper, I did not speak out because I was not a rapper

Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me

It received an emotional ovation from these foreigners that care about the fate of the minorities in Spain and respect its diversity, are interested in the reality of life in Catalonia, and no longer believe anything they read in the mainstream press.

They are impressed by a mobilised people involved in a myriad activities and associations, by the spirit of peaceful activism they have witnessed, by a people speaking up and speaking out despite the intense pressure to silence them, by the battered but not beaten.

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