Days of Living Dangerously in Catalonia

Fractured communities, splintered families, broken friendships.

By Don Quijones, Spain, UK, & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.

In Catalonia the economy is already beginning to feel the pinch from the rise in political tensions, as tourist numbers plunge 20% to 30% and as hundreds of companies, both domestic and foreign, move their headquarters to other parts of Spain, albeit in most cases only on paper.

But there’s one business that’s doing a brisk trade: the flag business.

Wherever you go these days, flags are everywhere. For years the estelada flag, the starry symbol of Catalan independence, has been a ubiquitous feature of the urban landscape. But now the Spanish flag is doing its best to catch up. As Catalonia’s separatist movement grows in confidence, more and more balconies in Madrid, Valencia, Seville and other Spanish cities, including even Barcelona, are sporting the bold red and yellow of the Spanish flag.

I took these photos in Barcelona. The estelada draped from windows and balconies along with the Catalan Senyera flag (red and yellow stripes without star, the former flag of the Crown of Aragon):

And the estelada on tractors:

Here’s a mix of the Catalan Senyera and the Spanish flag:

And mostly Spanish flags:

The Chinese are happy to manufacture these flags. And the Pakistanis, Indians and Bangladeshis that run many of Spain’s convenience stores are happy to sell them. As the Catalans are fond of saying, pela és pela (money is money).

While all this frenetic flag buying, selling, waving and draping may be good business for some, it points to a very dark reality for Spanish and Catalan society: two deeply rooted, diametrically opposed forms of nationalism with a bleak not-so-distant past are on the verge of a head-on clash. While much of the focus of the international media has been on divisions between Spain and Catalonia, it’s within Catalonia itself that the most toxic effects of this political crisis are being felt.

Communities within the region are fracturing, families are splintering and friendships are breaking apart as the politics of sectarianism worm their way into just about every public and private space.

Stress levels are rising and many people are struggling to sleep. A friend of mine told me last week that the morning after the violence-marred referendum on Oct.1, two colleagues at the office where she works, belonging to a company whose management is fiercely unionist, were entrusted with the unpleasant task of finding out where all the other junior employees’ loyalties lie.

“On the side of dialogue” was my friend’s improvised response.

The pressures to conform are at times unbearable. The wife of a close friend complained at the weekend that she had been strongly criticized by her work colleagues for not taking part in last Tuesday’s general strike. If there’s another strike she’ll probably stay at home, if only to avoid the accusatory glares of her fellow colleagues.

Another friend, of Spanish-German descent, was interviewed by a German newspaper about his feelings over recent developments in Catalonia. Having suffered serious setbacks in his work as sales manager for a German chemicals company and facing the possibility of having to move to Madrid as a direct result of the political chaos in Catalonia, my friend was pretty candid about the chaos it’s causing.

But when the journalist sent him the final copy of the article, he saw that she had featured his full name and the name of the company he works for. “You can’t do that,” he told her. “I could lose my job. My company could lose all its contracts with local government institutions. I could even be blacklisted.” In the end the journalist agreed to remove all mention of my friend and his business from the article.

That more or less sums up the bleak reality that has descended on Catalonia, a place where it’s becoming increasingly difficult to express your opinions freely and openly without paying a high price. The fact that this is happening in a country where the roots of democracy are still fairly shallow should give pause for thought. By Don Quijones.

Hopes that Catalonia’s woes could be contained are fading. Read…  Catalonia Crisis Far From Over Despite Market Surge

Enjoy reading WOLF STREET and want to support it? You can donate. I appreciate it immensely. Click on the beer and iced-tea mug to find out how:

Would you like to be notified via email when WOLF STREET publishes a new article? Sign up here.

  29 comments for “Days of Living Dangerously in Catalonia

  1. walter map says:

    What I seem to have missed in these discussions is the ethnic discrimination against Catalonia which has long since become ingrained in Spanish culture generally. The average Spaniard seems to view and treat Catalans with a derision which may be familiar to those who are aware of the racial history of the US.

    Hemingway caught a bit of it in a song by the gypsy Rafael in For Whom the Bell Tolls:

    My nose is flat, my face is black, but still I am a man.
    Thank God I am a Negro, and not a Catalan!

    Spanish culture has often been notorious for its intolerance, and that intolerance is legendary in the long history of the Inquisition, particularly towards the Jews and Moors who formerly lived in peace in the centuries before the ethnic cleansings of the Reyes Católicos. Catalans have similarly been so much provoked that one can hardly fault them for wanting to leave. The Portuguese got away early so that at least is a done deal.

    Recommended is one of the more insightful introductions to the history and culture of Spain, James Michener’s Iberia.

  2. B says:

    I feel for the people of Spain and Catalonia that are pressured to take a side. It seems like there are many places in the world that people cannot just be, they must take a position that is often extreme or polarized. While this nothing new in the course of historical events, I find it interesting that the focus is centered on either national cohesion or independence. Will either of those two ends solve the insolvent finances of a country? Independence and national cohesion do not last very long when the people cannot provide for themselves. Until the power structures that created this situation, the ones that continually line-the-pockets of private entities with public funds, the ‘broken record’ of social division will be played endlessly.

    • Cynic says:

      Catalans are the new Jews, unfortunately. The comments sections of the Spanish press are disgusting to read – a complete absence of rationality. And the shame is that Madrid is stoking this up.

      Unfortunately, it gets to such a point that if one attempts to sit on the fence, or even be reasonable, accusations of ‘traitor’ soon start .

      In such polarized societies, the life of the reasonable person can be very uncomfortable and lonely.

      I do know one clever man in the Basque Country who manages to play both sides: the trick is, they never talk to one another, and so never realise that he is saying a different thing to each one!

      But it is still not as bad as it was in the Basque Country, where even to say that ETA was wrong to murder a child would lead to death threats – many Basques were forced into exile, and people who, left ETA in disgust (they had joined to fight Franco) were hunted down and murdered even much later.

      Puigdemont’s reasonable letter to Rajoy is much to be praised, and I can’t see a terrorism movement ever arising out of this, thankfully.

      But the violence against peaceful people on voting day will be long remembered, I am sure.

  3. ian says:

    Judging by the recent spate of articles claiming that tourist regions of Spain, and elsewhere, are sick of tourists and want the numbers curtailed they should be rejoicing at the 20-30% plunge in tourist numbers. Hope they also didn’t want their cash or it could be tricky. Plenty of other places in the world to visit.

  4. Nicko2 says:

    Place the blame on self-serving politicians exploiting nationalist sentiment for their own ends. Resorting to nationalism will not magically create a more equitable society in the face of continued and unstoppable globalization. Indeed, Spain should be a success story of the free movement of people and goods.

    • kam says:

      “unstoppable globalization” ?

      Globalization has already sowed the seeds of it’s own destruction. Foreigners and Elitists telling locals what they “must” do. Top down bureaucracies dictating to the outer regions.

      Globalization is stirring up nationalism everywhere.

    • MtlGooberDad says:

      Nicko2, I support your point. I use to feel some pride for my country, but the more I’ve opened my eyes the more that I realize that it doesn’t matter where you’re from; it’s who you are.
      Nationalism is often used by our own governments against us. Now when people ask me about politics, I just say that I don’t like government of any kind and that we should all just strive to be free.

  5. Gershon says:

    So does Puigdemont’s failure to provide a clear response to the Spanish ultimatum demanding that he “clarify” where he actually declared independence for Catalonia mean that Article 155 will be invoked? Given the potential consequences for the ECB’s ability to keep playing “extend and pretend” with the Eurozone financial crisis, there has been scant attention paid to the matter in the international media.

  6. Gershon says:

    With “extend and pretend” being the order of the day in the EU generally and Spain in particular, how long will Spain and Catalonia keep issuing ultimatums and evasive responses to keep kicking the can rather than deal with the crux of the matter?

  7. Lluís says:

    Mr Quijones.

    First of all let me tell you I am a humble, small-business owner, catalan and also let me thank you you for your articles talking about this sad situation in Catalonia.

    If you don’t mind my suggestion for a more balanced view on Catalonia you should add some pictures of the fascist-racist flags (requeté, pre-constitution) that the spanish catalan haters usualy wave during their rallyes against catalan language and culture (just see the extreme violence form fascist groups that occured in Valencia on the 9th October, as well as the one in Barcelona).

    Some people argue that catalans are radicalising. This is a sad concept to describe that they stand up against what is an open strategy to undercut teh autonomus government from the central Spanish state.

    Bear always in mind that it was the Catalan language the one that was banned (banned!) in Spain during the fascist spanish dictatorship.

    It was the Catalan language books that were burned (burned!) during that time.

    And it was the catalan speaking teachers that were ostracised in 1939 -not the spanish ones, as the strategy was to eliminate the Catalan culture and language.

    There’s a line of communication that tries to victimize the spanish-language speakers in Catalonia, most of them public workers in the spanish administration that hate that Catalan is used normally. Be careful. We catalans never sing “go get them!” (“a por ellos!”) to our police as some spaniards have sung to Guardia Civil when they came here to hit hard during the referendum.

    I’m always pro-dialoge, always against bullying small nations and cultures, always against violence. Be careful of the State-corporativist regime communication line.

    It is a pleasure to read your and Mr Wolf’s articles.

    • Don Quijones says:

      Thanks Lluís.

      I hear you. I’m as concerned as you are by the resurgence of Spanish nationalism, in particular given the not so distant historical context, and it’s a subject that I intend to write about some time soon (either here or at my own blog, Rigged Game). And I did mention the “a por ellos” chants in another piece. I also wrote fairly exhaustively about the ugly side of Spanish nationalism in a 2013 piece titled “Fear, Loathing and Collective Amnesia in Crisis-Ridden Spain” (link:

      But this article was intended merely to expose some of the cracks and divisions that the current crisis is creating within many Catalan communities. I’ve tried to be as objective as possible and have focused purely on examples close to my own life.



      • Lluís says:

        Thank you so much for your answer, I feel honoured.

        I understand that your article is exposing these social cracks that are appearing in here. I just wanted to point out that the spirit of the two parties is radically different and that the’re fascist elements in the spanish one. This, honestly, makes me a bit scared. I do not detect that fascist ideology in my pro-independence acquaintances, not even between the most radicals.

        Indeed, those cracks have been always here, but not so palpable.

        Thanks again!


  8. Enrique Bermudez says:

    Not intending to having a go (personally) at an above poster, but I dispute the notion that the “average” Spaniard views Catalans with derision.

    I am of Spanish ethnicity and upbringing (if not current residence) and this is not my opinion as to the “average” attitudes of my countrymen.

    It’s like anything – there are bad feelings in all directions in all places between groups and sub-groups. Never a good idea to generalise.

    Loads of diversity of attitude within Catalunya itself. Both now and back in the day. People forget (or do not know) that during the Civil War some of the most bitter fighting was in and amongst the many factions on the (purportedly) “Republican” side. Catalunya was highly anarchist in orientation but the far smaller but much more disciplined Comintern types rather quickly made short work of the anarchists, etc.

    • Lluís says:

      Thanks Mr Bermudez.

      I agree with you: “never a good idea to generalize”.

      But it seems that to have a civilised conversation as it is typical in this forum, we resort (mostly kindly) to generalisations as you do in your last paragraph.

      No deirsion, neither mockery nor ad hominem words from my side, just respect.

      Brief note: I am catalan but I would never consider myself belonging to a concrete ethnicity.

      Now, I need to keep working after this pause. Thanks again for your reply.

      • Rob says:


        What do you think the outcome will be and how will it be achieved?



        • Lluís says:


          Thanks for your reply.

          Sadly, yesterday two civil pro-independence leaders were jailed in Madrid without bail. The message is clear from spain: no dialoge, only punishment.

          I don’t know what the future holds. I truly hope the spanish state does not act through the armed forces (military police or army) as some spanish far-right party would like so it could grab the power in Catalonia where nowadays they are a minuscule minority in Parliament.

          Spain is not in very good shape economicaly (nor Catalonia after being a net contributor to the EU budget and transfering 5% of GDP to spain) so an armed intervention would be disastrous for everybody.

          Even though R. Frost wrote it with a more complex meaning: “good fences make good neighbors”.

        • Rob says:

          What now Lluis? Puidgemont goes into hiding? Catalan nationalists attack Spanish national forces? Shocking lack if EU intervention. If the EU had an army surely it would be used to suppress the Catalans. Now two Italian states will hold referendums.

    • Cynic says:

      Good points, and who is the ‘average man’ anyway, anywhere?

      But what can be said is that the tone and content of the comments being made about Catalans in general and separatists in particular the press – both articles and comments by readers – are not in any way comparable to what is said in England about the Scots nationalists (‘Stop whining, and if you really want to go so badly, go!’)

      To a Spaniard with a knowledge of history, the temperament of the people, and the character of the PP, it is very disquieting. The complacent acceptance by so many of the police actions on referendum day argue for a loss of ethical sense on a grand scale.

      My cousin was badly abused in shop in Madrid a few months ago when he unwittingly said, ‘Thanks, Goodbye’ in Catalan. He’s no nationalist, and was taken aback by the way he was treated, the violence of emotion. The irony is that he is Anglo-Murcian…..

      When that sort of thing happens, something is very badly wrong with the mentality of the people doing it – this has now over-flowed with recent events and marches, for all to see.

  9. MF says:

    I just drove through Northern California. There are huge, fading State of Jefferson signs along the road. I’m sure most people smirk at them as they drive by, thinking the movement has petered out.

    I think it has, for now. But I also remember a few short years ago when everyone dismissed the Catalan separatist movement as a fringe group with no hope of success. Endless march to globalism and all that.

    It’s easy to think of Balkanization as something that happens to Other People living Over There far away. But it seems the trend is accelerating rather than waning. If so, the Catalan crisis will soon be coming to a (war) theater near you.

  10. Klaus says:

    For the record, the “estelada” is the red and yellow striped flag with a blue triangle and a white star.

    The red and yellow striped flag (without blue triangle and star) is Catalonia’s flag, as approved by the Catalans, its Estatute and the Constitution. So there is no contradiction between Spain’s flag and Catalonia’s flag.

    • Don Quijones says:

      Thanks for that, Klaus. It was due to a bit of a communication breakdown between myself and Wolf.



    This is about sociopathic politics breaking society apart and not society progressing through politics…

  12. ross says:

    Thank you for your article. I’m trying to understand the issues and history.

    From a hollow in the Blue Ridge Mountains

  13. jarana says:

    Hi everybody. I’m writting from the Basque Country (where I was born and live in now), and I am really concerned about what is going on in Catalonia.

    I’m not going to buy the pro-independence nor the ‘Spain is great together!!!’ ticket as they are being sold. I.m.h.o., two things can unfold from this situation in Catalonia, feelings and dreams aside:

    OPTION 1- Some serious constitutional changes regarding the “territorial administration” will be made, leaving back once and for all the shadows of ‘jacobinism’ (old empire stupid vices of our own and later imported from France) towards a federal or even cantonal administrative solution (not new in spanish history nor in current EU and actually working in Basque Country and Navarra).

    This is perfectly compatible with European administrations and good soil for stablishing a real freedom of movement of people, goods and money inside Spain and EU, together with the ideas and feeleings everyone would like to take in one’s luggage (preferably AFTER putting inside the bag something to eat).

    As a rebounding effect, this will act on the BIG REAL problem in Spain now (unbelievably crazy cronny capitalism), as fiscal responsability and market-oriented political positions will be a must for every federation as ‘Big Daddy State’ and ‘Big Daddy Draghi’ would be on holiday for a long time (forget all socialist madness that is starting to get too much ‘usual’ in spanish not-so-young minds, for god’s sake!!!).

    All territories will have to agree on letting people to vote with their feet, i.e, respecting the ‘negative individual rights’ (including languaje) of all spanish citizens between such federations or cantons, as well as letting different regions to have different legislations in many matters if they democratically vote so, regardless of the “feelings” and regardless of the “how great is Spain together”-ings that anyone could plead.

    OPTION2- the Madrid man digging the holes mads at the Barcelona man making the shovels because he works standing meanwhile the other works sitting. Rajoy and Puigdemont don’t dig nor make shovels, as they have to make understand everyone how great are their nations.

    Hope we get to 1- (or similar) without no more violence but making profound changes in our gevernments knowing that feeding the state in the name of any nation, is to feed the beast.

    (NOTE: I do not consider a tax revolt as violence, and I’ve heard something about it being really effective and less harmning for kids than putting them in front of the police to get a great picture…).

    Gero Arte.

    • Stevedcfc72 says:

      Hi Jarana,

      Interesting reply, from a Basque country point of view its a shame the region hasn’t become involved to act as an intermediary between Spain and the Catalan region.

      Spanish courts jailing people for their political view is a dangerous move also which the EU has yet again been quiet on.

      Economically there are no winners in this and that’s a shame for the whole country.

  14. fjcruiserdxb says:

    Excellent article by DQ and thanks for all the comments. It gives a different perspective on the whole issue. The more we can share these articles the better. Mainstream media is either incapable of analysing the situation or the are just the puppets of our governements. I also shared an interesting analysis of Saxo Bank about how Catalonia would fare it is was to be an independent country.
    Here is the link

    • Blue Republic says:

      Yes, excellent article and link – says they are running a trade surplus
      of over *11%* ??

      Looks like any economic downside for Catalonia from separation might be pretty short-lived.

Comments are closed.