My Catalonia an indelible day

Others who did not vote told me why. They were among the very elderly with clear memories and were afraid.

A heavy stillness fell upon our Catalan valley tonight with the fading to black. The contrast with what has just passed is numbingly stark. This suddenly battered country, far out on a limb, is holding its breath. The sparsely-lit village streets and square are empty but for cats, and there is nothing tangible of the indelible feelings of the ruptured daylight. These now tumble on, in homes across Catalonia as screen blink shocking violence, dignity, fear, and blame, as people of all ages and persuasions try to take stock of what they are living through, of what change has come.

For it is impossible now to reason a way back to the past, and with the Catalan Independence results flashing up village by village, town by town, it seems the majority are demanding “never!”. We will know soon and then another day of unbelievable, defining events will come, of edicts, clamour and accusations - but, I beg, no more brutality.

You will judge for yourselves. I just want to talk about my community.

I have lived here for 17 years, and just like anyone rooted in a cohesive society I have come to understand and appreciate the values and character of those around me. They belong to a village like any other, a village where family, identity, tradition and community are paramount, that is. They gather at the drop of a hat. They share so much blood and belief. As one old enough to reflect across half a century and more, I feel it has been a journey back in time. Such is the glue, the unpretentious spirit of rural Latin life.

That identity has never waivered in my years here, or for centuries. These are independent Catalans. La Diada, the Nation Day, September 11th, commemorates the fall of Barcelona in the Spanish War of Succession in 1714 and the country losing its freedomafter a 14- month siege of the city. It was an unforgettable loss, yet for a vast part of the last century anyone marking it would be punished by dictator Franco. Like the language, though, it lived on in soft, determined voices in houses, back streets and villages and then surged again when fascism was expunged.

My Catalan neighbours do not support Spain in sport because, they state, they are not Spanish. And now the weight of the shadow they feel has hung over them for generations has suddenly lifted in the course of just a few years. It seems it could be heaved away by collective strength. You may have seen that on La Diada millions have taken to the streets of Barcelona to try and build a consensus for freedom again. It is a passion embroiled in constitutional politics and fundamental rights, that demand continent-wide comment and commitment, far more so after today.

But I need to refocus on what I truly know, the people here. I sensed that some in the village square were disappointed at the end of the referendum waiting, voting, watching, eating and absorbing the news of intimidation and injury all around them, that the Spanish military police, the Guardia Civil, had not come to their village to try to stop them. Just a handful do not want independence and did not join the gathering. Others who did not vote told me why. They were among the very elderly with clear memories and were afraid.

The threat was always there. Eyes constantly flicked to the street corner, for the green markings of the military police cars. Other polling stations were being stormed and ballot boxes seized, people brutalized. Occasionally rumours bloomed and villagers would shoal in front of the main door to the council room where votes were being registered. The referendum was painfully slow because as well as sending riot police to scores of sites the Spanish government had sabotaged the referendum’s computer system. But the Catalan Government and thousands of volunteers seemed to find a way to get through.

I stood at the edge of what felt like a celebration picnic and observed the mayor, the mother of young children, fret that the day would be broken. It wasn’t, here at least. People sang the national anthem, applauded, and then went home to watch and wait to see if their identity, self-belief and dignity would help to win the day, the week, their long dream - independence. We are still waiting, to know what will be the consequences of today’s shocking challenge, for the whole of Spain, the continent and, yes, this single Catalan village which is representative of so many. Exhausted though I am, I fear sleep will be fitful.

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