As the year draws to an end, instability reigns in the Spanish parliament, with the Socialists in need of votes, Catalan independence leaders behind bars, former officials still in exile and threatened with extradition, while protests in favour of independence continue to take place in Catalonia, and the country’s pro-independence parties are offering Pedro Sánchez their votes in exchange for negotiations on self-determination.
How things change? Or not. A lot has happened in Catalonia in the past 12 months, but in some ways everything remains stuck in a showdown between competing views with little hope of either side backing down. Who knows – at this point many would say, who cares – how things will turn out in the end, but one could be forgiven for looking back at 2019 with a sigh. Whether you sigh or not, you can check out our review of the year from pages 21 to 45, which offers a, sadly all too brief, overview of some of the major stories that dominated the news in the past 12 months.
But, hey, it’s almost Christmas, and a new year full of hope and promise is on its way. Besides, not everything was doom and gloom in 2019, as plenty of good stuff happened, events that can only be described as progress, and which can help us appreciate living in a society where most of us don’t have to fear being jumped by a tiger, dying from an infected finger, going more than a few hours without filling our bellies, sleeping in the rain, or having our throats cut while we sleep. If you look for them, there are reasons to be cheerful, and here I’ll list just a few of the positive things that happened in 2019 that were often buried in the news. As it only took me a few minutes to dig them up, I’m sure there were plenty more I didn’t see, and I for one am sure there’ll be plenty more like them in the year to come.
Finances are something we rightly worry about, and there’s no doubt there are plenty of people in Catalonia struggling to keep their heads above water. Yet, unemployment fell last year, and gross average salaries returned to above €2,000 for the first time since 2015. Civil servants got a pay rise, and Catalan exports hit record highs, with Barcelona airport seeing over 50 million passengers in its facilities.
Health, another major concern, also saw plenty of good news, with Catalonia becoming a world leader in organ transplants, while the country’s cancer rates are now below those in Europe and the US. The first total artificial heart transplant was carried out here, and progress was made in loads of medical areas, such as pioneering laser surgery for epilepsy introduced at Hospital del Mar, a new cell treatment developed for multiple sclerosis, and the first migraine research centre opening in Vall d’Hebron hospital. Meanwhile, the health department announced spending of €30m on primary care centres, while homeless people in Barcelona can now get free medical attention.
Then there’s the environment, what a nightmare! True, but the network of electric vehicle recharging stations was expanded, and recycling continued to rise, while plenty of environmentally-friendly solutions were unveiled at fairs like the Barcelona Motor Show and the Smart City World Expo, which along with the Mobile World Congress drew thousands to Barcelona and helped keep the city on the world map. In fact, Barcelona was chosen to host the new European supercomputer.
I could go on but you get the idea, and for many in Catalonia, the most important thing of all was that Barça won the league again.