#1Oct Tarragona

Much has been written about what is happening in Catalonia right now so I am sizing the keyboard to give you my personal account.

 

It begins on Saturday the 30th of September a day that felt almost clandestine. The ANC (Assemblea National Catalana) had set up an encrypted channel through Telegram order to evade the attempts  by the Spanish government to shut down all its communication. The channel (which is still operational as I type) contained events updates and instruction on where to vote and notifications where coming through think and fast.

At the fruit and veg market, which sets up every Saturday in Plaça del Forum,  Rosa, my favourite fruit vendor from Alcanar, shrugged as she sold her last tomatoes “… let’s see what happens, it should have never come to this” Of course she was right. There are hundreds of articles which will explain you how Catalonia “came to this” so I will not repeat what has already been sayd; suffice to say that most of my Catalan friends were going to cast a vote next day and most of my Spanish friends were not. So Saturday went by by like it would never end and when the night came anyone here barely slept.

My eyes fell open at 6am. Thirty minutes later I was walking down the street past the cathedral hulled in silence. In Carrer Major, the main high street of the historic quarter,  about a hundred people where standing around the designated poll station acting as human shields in case the police would intervene and size the ballot box and papers before voting even started. The instructions by the organisers has been clear: in case of provocation never respond to violence and only offer passive resistance. Bring water, a fully changed mobile phone and wear comfortable shoes as there could be a long wait.

I was not here to vote,  I am a long term resident and not a Spanish citizen, but the circumstances of this referendum, pronounced illegal by the Spanish government, were so unique that I had decided to appoint my self as a unofficial observer and get a personal perspective.

 

Two Mossos (the local Catalan police) arrived and a road sweeper cut a through the crowd.  Voting should have started at 9 am but it didn’t. The connection to the main database containing the id of all the people legally entitled to vote in Catalonia was being interfered with from the outside. Although people where filling out a ballot paper their ID had to be cross checked every time a vote was cast and this was currently impossible, so everything stopped and people waited.

News started coming in about the violent irruptions by the Guardia Civil in the polling stations in Barcelona. Images of what was happening at the electoral college of Sant Julià de Ramis i Soses started filtering through. Then came the videos. Everyone with a smart phone  became a beacon of news. Eyes glued on small screens displaying the images of police in riot gear charging against people posing with their hands raised.

I took a break and together with a friend went to a cafe in Plaça de la Font where the large TV was broadcasting from different areas of Barcelona, Tortosa and Lleida. The Guardia Civil had begun using rubber bullets against those standing in their way. The worse was happening at the Escola Ramon LulI in Barcelona. It was heartbreaking to watch as it became clear that this was not a simple ballot paper sizing exercise.

When we returned to Carrer Major the length of the queue had tripled and the mood had changed. Among the hundreds queuing were neighbours, nuns from the nearby convent, mothers with children improvising games while they waited for the voting system to start. There were no flags, no patriotic songs. Someone opened the door and everything went quiet to hear the announcement: voting could start. An applause broke out. Old men and woman where sent ahead of the queue, the fist to put an X on to the ballot paper the first to walk out elated, defiant. A friend  came out of the station and hugged me visibly moved, I voted for my grandfather she said, he was a republican.

At 12  another friend called me from across the square and told me that the Guardia Civil was sizing ballot boxes at the Institut Tarragona. Hoping to help as human shields we run down the  Rambla Vella, which had been cordoned off from both ends,  and arrived at in front of the steps of the Escola Savedra. This was not a polling station but an area where people where people where taking temporary refuge from what was happening further down the road. Among the many people gathered was Livia. Last time we met it was in front of the large reproduction of the Ara Pacis  during the historical recreation festival of Tarraco Viva. Livia was then the ageing wife of emperor Caesar Augustus, dresses in rich noble robes.  Now she was wearing flats, trousers and a t-shirt and in her hand a red carnation.

We waited for nearly one hour but the police had moved elsewhere. News and videos made with shaking hand held phones where coming from the nearby neighbourhood of San Salvador and San Pere i Sant Pau where the now familiar scene was repeating it self. People violently showed away, trampled over, ballot boxes sized.

 

Back at the old district, the building of the Colla Jove had been kept open since Friday for fear of closure. People had taken turns to stay awake and sleep inside a place which is normally the training ground of castellers practising human towers. Ballot boxes had been hidden in peoples home for days and in complete secrecy. We arrived to a charged atmosphere,  the air  filled with cigarette smoke and people tired yet defiant. Anger was growing and so where the queues  of people wanting to  vote that day. Amongst them where people who had not been sold on the discourse about independence, people who where fiercely españolistas  all angry about what was happening in their city.


Someone had parked a large white van at the upper end of the descending road to act as a barricade in case the police surprised them from above and time and time again we saw lights flashing at the thoroughfare nearby with the Mossos preparing the way for the Guardia Nacional to intervene.

At eight in the evening all the polling stations was shut and the voting count began. For a tense hour and half we waited outside ready to sit down and block the entrance should the police arrive. The ballot boxes filled with votes would have been rich picking. Yet for some reason they left us alone. Our town major was also notably absent. He had positioned him self against the referendum early on, that much was clear.  Yet he never showed up or spoke out against the violence of that day.

At nine thirty in the polling station of the Colla Jove announced its own result: 1330 YES and 54 no. “We have voted! We have voted!” words that were echoing though Catalonia and would determine the days ahead.

As I walked home though the empty streets it felt like the world had slightly tilted and nothing here would ever be the same again.


REF:

New York Times Catalonia’s Independence Referendum, in Photographs

The Guardian Violence against Catalan voters: what we know so far

The Telegraph ‘They are frightening us’ – batons and rubber bullets fly as Catalans vote on independence 

Washington Post Why Spain’s catastrophic handling of the Catalonia crisis is a lesson for the world

The Guardian (Opinion) ‘We are with you Catalunya’ – the revolt in Spain is bigger than flags and language

The Guardian (Opinion) I was Catalan, Spanish and European. But Mariano Rajoy has changed all that

The Economist It is not too late to stop the break-up of Spain