Like moths to the light, we journalists tend to get drawn towards the dramatic. In the case of politics that can mean dwelling on the extremes: the colourful, the freaky, the radicals. But there are also, of course, characters and opinions that are less eye-catching yet equally important.
Catalonia’s on-going crisis has been so relentlessly divisive that it’s easy to forget that there are plenty of people caught in the middle. They may or may not favour independence, but either way they do not fall into the Manichean confrontation which has made the “Catalan debate” so poisonous.
A Catalan friend of mine describes himself as one of those “in the middle”. He is not an independentista, but he can sympathise with the independence movement’s grievances. His unionism, meanwhile, is a long way from that on display in the form of the Spanish flags hanging from balconies and car rear-view mirrors in so many parts of the country.
“October 1st was tough for me,” he says. “I was against the holding of the referendum, [but] when I saw the police charging I went down to the voting station which was next to my home to give a hug to my neighbours who were terrified.”
“I’m totally against the police action and it seems unthinkable that the interior minister didn’t resign that same morning.”
But he is also critical of the referendum itself, because he believes it was based on Catalan politicians taking their voters “for a ride”:
“I distinguish between the pro-independence base, the people who believed in the [vote], and the independence leaders, who were toying with those people, they toyed with their feelings and they have left my country in a shameful situation. Catalonia is going to take years, or even decades, to recover a degree of normality…Catalonia was okay before because there was a degree of consensus: ‘We’re all different but we all accept each other as Catalans’. But now, these people have divided Catalonia into those ‘who are Catalan, who are pro-independence, and the others, who aren’t pro-independence and we don’t really know if they are Catalans.’ We’ve thrown away years of work uniting Catalan society.”
The Catalan issue, he says, has had an impact on him socially. There are old friends whom he no longer sees, not because they have fought over the independence issue but because they know that they will disagree if the subject comes up. His own family, including his in-laws, he says, are a mixture of lifelong independentistas, “neo-independentistas” and “totally anti-independentistas”.
“I’ve been at some family meals where somebody ended up banging the table and saying ‘that’s enough – we’re not talking about this any more, okay?’”
He adds: “The problem is, admitting that [social] division means breaking with the idea that the process is nice and tolerant. It’s also linked to the issue of violence…I would say there is no violence, although actually there’s no explicit violence. But there is an incredible latent tension.”
Ciudadanos, he believes has been gleefully contributing to that tension and he describes Albert Rivera’s party as “the worst thing to happen to this country” for years. He then makes a statement which, while rather obvious to many, will no doubt horrify hardliners on both sides.
“Ciudadanos and the [radical] independentistas are the same, they’re the same thing,” he says. “One on one side, the other on the other side – exactly the same. They both feed off all this, they live off confrontation.”
“The procés proposes something…it says: ‘In Catalonia there are two sides, so you have to decide: either the Francoist, fascist, hyper-Spanish and god-knows-what-else side, or the side of democracy, the smiles and self-determination’. And then there’s a group on the other side – Tabarnia and all that mob, who say: ‘Finally, it was about time, there are two sides in Catalonia – those who speak Catalan, who are nationalist, pro-independence, intolerant fascists and then there are those of us who are democratic Castilians who have always been under the boot of the Catalan bastards’.”
He says: “Both visions are complementary and both are false. In Catalonia there aren’t just two sides, [but] the two extremes are the ones who speak the most. Those of us in the middle are the ones who speak out the least.”