The legendary (in these parts anyway) Catalan leader Josep Tarradellas once said something along the lines of ‘in politics anything goes except being ridiculous’ (“En política ‘espot fer tot, menys el ridícul‘” in Catalan). Radical Catalan separatists, who are now pressing their territorial claims in France, and promise “independence or barbarism” for Catalonia, are long past the ridiculous, and well into the ludicrous.
For weeks now catalan separatists have been trying to bring Spain to its knees, mainly by blocking roads and burning rubbish containers, plus a bit of rioting. Last week radical separatists from the shadowy ‘Democratic Tsunami’ world and the ‘Committees for the Defence of the Republic’ (a Republic that exists in their imagination) blocked a motorway on the French side of the border, but were promptly kicked out by French police when France returned to work after a public holiday. Following that, radical separatists have warned Paris, or at least the French consulate in Barcelona, that they intend to liberate what they call Northern Catalonia, which the rest of us know as the Roussillon region of Southern France (see their propaganda picture above). Their hubris knows no bounds.
The riots in Barcelona have died down, and the disruption campaign designed to make life hell for everyone else in Catalonia looks like petering out. On Saturday the radicals called for a “total blockade” of Barcelona, but in the end just a small crowd tried and failed to shut down a train station. The gap between their ‘heroic struggle’ rhetoric and reality is wider than ever. I have noticed that in-law family members in favour of independence now have serious doubts about the separatist drive that radicals are turning into a bad joke.
But much damage has been done in the process so far, and tales of woe abound. I’ve read of sick people having to soil themselves in bed because carers can’t reach them, lorry drivers wigging out on protesters because their jobs are on the line, and many businesses under pressure. Economic damage is inevitable, and many families will find themselves in trouble as breadwinners lose their jobs and can’t pay the mortgage.
Living in the centre of Barcelona, in the heart of the small area where most of the rioting has taken place, I’ve had my fair share of inconveniences to deal with in the last month. But there’s one ordeal in particular that did the Catalan independence drive no favours in my book. Here’s how not to win over someone to your cause.
Bizzare scenes in the woods
One Friday night a few weeks ago I was driving my family up to the Pyrenees for the weekend. Rain was in the air as we approached the town of Ripoll where, before my very nose, the police closed the road due to a separatist protest ahead. Annoyed as I was turning back towards Vic, and planning to find some other way around Ripoll, I thanked our lucky stars that at least we were not stuck in the traffic jam fast building up on the other side of the dual carriageway. I could see that people were going to be stuck there for a long time.
I took the first exit to stop and look at maps, and plan a new route before setting off again to join the dual carriageway heading south. But to my horror, the small road we were stuck on snaked around the wooded hills for a while before doubling back under the dual carriageway and spitting us out back on the road to Ripoll at the tail-end of the traffic jam I thought we had just escaped. Things were going from bad to worse as I swore under my breath, and I don’t remember ever being so annoyed.
Two hours later, having barely moved, tempers were fraying in the car, and my wife needed to go to the loo. With a serious illness my wife can’t just jump over the barrier and into the bushes like the rest of us. So I took the first and only exit off the dual carriageway down a small road that quickly turned into a dirt track up into the hills. In theory, according to maps, this was a back route through the volcanic hills of La Garrotxa that linked up with a bigger road in the next valley. As I figured, that might be a better option than sitting in a traffic jam all night, like many people have been forced to do recently in different parts of Catalonia.
I did wonder to myself why I was the only genius in all that jam taking this route, and maybe that wasn’t such a good sign. But the atmosphere in the car was becoming unbearable, and I felt I had to do something.
As the road quickly turned into dirt track it became painfully clear that this was a bad idea that would probably go horribly wrong with us stuck in the forest in the middle of the night with no phone signal, and me having to leave my wife and kids in the dark and walk back to find help. But I couldn’t turn back as the track was now too narrow.
Fortunately, a little further on, we came to a small clearing in the woods with enough room to turn the car around. By now my kids were both crying, and my wife getting hysterical, so going back to the traffic jam now seemed like a capital idea. The clearing was also a private place for my wife go to the loo.
It was starting to rain as I helped my wife out of the car. I won’t bore you with the finer points of helping a lady go to the loo in the woods, suffice it to say it’s not very elegant, and struck me a bit like playing the game twister, which is agony if you also have a slipped disk.
At that moment another car appeared, heading back down the trail towards the road a few kilometers away. I guess they also had the same idea as me, and decided to turn back. I won’t forget in a hurry the alarmed expression I saw in the dim light on the face of the lady in the passenger seat as they drove past. They didn’t hang around to find out what was going on, and I can’t say I blame them.
We made it back to the road relieved to be out of the woods, and joined the tailback for another hour or so before the protesters packed it in and went home for dinner, or out for a drink in Ripoll to congratulate themselves on their heroic night’s work hammering away at the foundations of the fascist Spanish state, and we were able to pass through Ripoll and head onwards, arriving at our destination four hours late.
After sitting for hours watching fumes rise from the exhaust of the car in front I suddenly found myself fuming at Dave Cameron for his part in putting me in this jam. There’s no doubt that the Scottish referendum inflamed Catalan desires for a referendum of their own – if they can have one why can’t we? I can see the potential value of using referendums to deal with eternal moral questions like capital punishment, euthanasia, and abortion, and putting those issues to bed for a generation. But when it comes to complex constitutional questions like independence and Brexit, referendums just unleash a shitshow of new problems lasting decades or more, and don’t even put the question to bed. Think #IndyRef2….Think the ‘People’s Vote’.