Rachelle Cohen: Divisions tear at Spanish democracy


BARCELONA — The flags and the yellow ribbons and the mass demonstrations tell part of the story — but only a part.

To an outsider they are part of the scenery — a photo-op as colorful as the Gaudí-designed buildings they adorn. But they speak to an inner pain — the pain of divisions that are centuries old and yet as new as the high-tech and biotech startups that are moving their corporate headquarters out of this, the heart of the Catalonian independence movement.

Yes, Boston’s sister city — a city with a stunning harbor, ancient pathways and the world-famous Ramblas — is doing what terrorists couldn’t accomplish when they attacked on the Ramblas last August. It is tearing itself apart.

Catalonia, an area of some 7.5 million people with its own language, culture and regional government, has long been an economic driver for Spain. And that in turn has spurred an independence movement that has grown louder and more militant since a vote last month — a vote the ham-handed central government in Madrid tried to stop.

The referendum passed by more than 90 percent — but with only 43 percent of the population voting. And so now Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has urged Catalonia’s “silent or silenced majority” to stop this madness at yet-another election scheduled for Dec. 21. It hasn’t helped that the jailing of several Catalan government officials has given the independence movement the martyrs it needed.

“Llibertat Presos Politics” reads the sign on a Catalan government building — “free the political prisoners.” Yellow ribbons have begun to pop up on signs hung from balconies and on the lapels of people on the street.

And yet Catalans themselves are deeply divided. The shops are busy, the cafes and restaurants even more so, the streets are filled with tourists and locals alike, and nobody wants to disrupt this kind of success. Already wary banks and hundreds of other businesses have moved their legal headquarters out of the region — just in case.

There are divisions here — political, economic and cultural — we can’t hope to understand. Imagine, if we are still fighting over statues of Confederate generals what it is like to live in a nation whose civil war ended in 1939 and which had to endure living under the fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco until his death in 1975. This is a nation that didn’t enjoy full democracy until 1978.

On a hillside overlooking Barcelona — Mountjuic, named for the…



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