There has been a group of activists camped in front of the Catalan parliament since last Tuesday, the Catalan national day, the Diada. This is the Acampada per la llibertat (Camp Freedom). On Tuesday, there were 23 committed souls braving the muggy Barcelona night. By Saturday the camp had grown significantly in size, resources and organisation: 26 tents, food, drink, picnic tables and, reassuringly, a library of a few hundred books containing a well-thumbed copy of Don Quixote. “More culture and less dictatorship goes the chant.
The campers are a diverse crowd. Some are veterans of previous camps and countless demonstrations, others’ earliest childhood memories are of a naked Albert Rivera smirking down from an advertising hoarding. The visitors and supporters come from all over Catalonia, and many have come bearing supplies.
Notable among these visitors have been the president of Catalonia, Quim Torra, and a few government ministers, who received the demands of the campers with good grace; the rector of St Andrews University, Clara Ponsati’s lawyer and keynote speaker at the Diada, Amer Anwaar; activist and member of the general secretariat of left-wing Catalan party the CUP (Popular Unity Candidacy), Mireia Boya; and Jordi Graupera, political philosopher and journalist, who made a surprise appearance late into Saturday night. Some impressive and genuine CVs in that list.
The last time tents were pitched here for the Catalan Republic was on 27 October of last year in expectance of a declaration of independence that never came. And now they are here in Plaça Sant Jaume again, defending the Catalan school system of “language immersion”, where Catalan is the vehicular language, in anticipation of the demonstration by Spanish nationalist groups against the Catalan education model at noon on Sunday under the slogan “Let’s speak Spanish” – something everyone in Catalonia can do anyway.
Why are they here?
At 17, Àxel Broch is the youngest of those camping for freedom and has been here since the first night, every night, until now as noon approaches. He’s exhausted. Àxel is the most politically knowledgeable teenager I have ever met. I will let him explain why they are here. El manifest dels 23, the Manifesto of the 23, the hardcore 23 that have been here all week, the 23 that represent the 2.3 million:
We are here to remember, to convince the people that a democracy exists that goes beyond the result of the ballot boxes that Sunday night. There’s a democracy that people build from the streets when they fear that what a majority has voted for will not be respected. A democracy that knows no hidden agenda, that is not afraid to fulfil what it has promised itself and does not consider taking a step backwards. A critical democracy that cannot be censored, imprisoned or exiled. A peaceful and revolutionary democracy at the same time, which does not respond nor ever will, to any elite. This is democracy that is only woven in places and streets when they are filled with democrats. This is the new democracy of the Catalan people!
Som aquí per recordar, per convèncer al poble que existeix una democràcia que va més enllà del resultat sortit de les urnes un diumenge a la nit de jornada electoral. Hi ha una democràcia que construeix la gent al carrer quan tem que allò que ha votat majoritàriament es converteixi en paper mullat. Una democràcia que no coneix d’interessos ocults, que no té por de cumplir allò que es promet a sí mateixa ni es planteja fer un pas enrere. Una democràcia que no es pot censurar, ni empresonar ni exiliar. Una democràcia pacífica i revolucionària a la vegada, que no respon ni ho farà mai davant de cap elit. Aquesta és la democràcia que només es teixeix a les places i als carrers quan s’omplen de demòcrates. Aquesta és la nova democràcia del poble català!
“Let’s speak Spanish”
Importantly, not all Spanish speakers are quite so fluent in Catalan. This is one of the main issues here. The education system was designed to protect the long-minoritised Catalan language. Many Spanish nationalists in Catalonia demand the right not to learn the Catalan language, the right not to need it, the right to ignore it, the right to be monolingual anywhere in the empire, even in the colonies. Spanish nationalists do not like Catalonia being described as a colony, but it has always seemed so to me. Even Spain’s Catalan Foreign Minister, Josep Borrell, considers his birthplace a nation. Evident and undeniable.
Spanish nationalist and anti-Catalan groups attending tomorrow’s demonstration against the Catalan school system are:
The calls to “fill Sant Jaume against fascism” have got louder in recent days. Many went early to keep watch, worried that there might be trouble. The only trouble was the trouble of any Barcelona night, the curious tourists being the most polite. There are occasional cries of Viva España! from distant wind-up merchants, a lot of drunks, a stolen wallet and a chase through the narrow streets, a visit from the Guardia Urbana on a short break to smoke a cigarette and take some photos of the “indepes”.
In the the end, many people turned out today to support and protect the campers, and the Catalan school. There will be more guardians of law and order marching in the “Hablamos español” demonstration than actually keeping the peace in uniform. The police presence at the camp has been negligible since Tuesday. Although it would have been unwelcome, some vigilance and protection for the camping activists might have been advisable.
The Spanish police union, Jusapol, was there again. The sight of them marching through Barcelona in January for pay parity with the Mossos, with unionist politicians paying to head them is an abiding memory of the past year. Spanish unionist parties, especially Ciudadanos, have spent time and energy fostering links and support within the Civil Guard, National Police and especially the Catalan force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, who they have taken to calling the “political police”, amusing when one considers the number of police attending Spanish nationalist and anti-Catalan demonstrations such as today’s.
Roger Español, who lost an eye on 1 October, the day of the referendum, read the camp’s manifesto to the full square.
And at 12, 500 Spanish nationalists came but found access to the Plaça Sant Jaume blocked by anti-fascists.
They did not pass. And they will not pass. No passaran.
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The Catalan school
The process of “linguistic normalisation” began in 19 centres in Santa Coloma de Gramenet in the 1983-1984 school year. Since then it has been introduced in almost all state and semi-private primary and secondary schools in Catalonia. Although the law was passed with 105 votes in favour and one abstention, there was opposition, principally from the signatories of El Manifest dels 2300 (the Manifesto of the 2,300) promoted by intellectuals such as Federico Jiménez Losantos, Santiago Tarancón, Amando de Miguel, Carlos Sahagún and José Luis Reinoso and criticising the policy of the new government of the Generalitat of Catalonia only five years after the Spanish Transition for, in their opinion, discriminating against Spanish and disloyalty to Spain. When Jiménez Losantos was kidnapped and shot in the leg by members of armed Marxist-Leninist Catalan separatist group Terra Lliure (Free Land) that had been founded in 1978, many from this group left Catalonia. The fallout from this attack can still be heard in the rhetoric of Spanish unionist parties and media. Though Terra Lliure disbanded in 1995, having given up the armed struggle in 1991, Catalan secessionists or independentists are often treated as violent terrorists. The only problem with the narrative in 2018 is the visibly pacific civil rights nature of this now massive and transversal movement.