Am American student’s guide to the Barcelona Protests
“Catalan Protests: Why is Barcelona burning?” “Protests in Spain Today: At least 37 injured, flights cancelled…” “Huge rallies in Barcelona as Catalans call for leaders release”
These are just a few of the headlines I read in the weeks approaching my visit to Barcelona over Halloween weekend.
In early October, nine Catalan politicians were sentenced to more than a decade in prison. The separtisis leaders will serve time for their failed efforts to secede from Spain in 2017.
Following the sentence, Spain witnessed the largest demonstration of political dissent it has seen in decades. Hundreds of thousands of Catalonians swarmed Barcelona’s streets. Many of the protests were peaceful, however others became violent. The protestors, mostly young people and students, blocked boulevards, set trash bins on fire, and hurled rocks among other things at Spanish national police offers. Spanish police responded with blows from batons and rubber bullets in an effort to control the crowds. Some people believe the protests turned violent in order to capture the attention of the media and generate international discussion around the Catalan/Spanish divide.
So what sets Catalan apart from the rest of Spain?
Catalonia is a distinct region of Spain with its own language, parliament, flag and anthem. In addition, there is a high concentration of wealth and innovation in Catalan. Much of the tension stems from Catalonians belief that they unfairly subsidize other poorer parts of Spain.
Read what BBC has to say about the Catalonia Crisis
How have the protests impacted me?
I bought my flight to Barcelona for Halloween weekend in August and never would have anticipated the political turmoil that erupted in October… In retrospect, I guess that’s why they encourage you to wait until you arrive in your host country to book weekend travel plans.
Besides my monetary commitment, I was emotionally invested in this trip. Barcelona is Spain’s second largest city and has a reputation for its amazing food, shopping, and art. In fact, one of my best friends had told me it’s their favorite city in the world next to New York City. Taking all of this into account, I felt my semester in Spain would be incomplete without visiting Catalan’s capital and did not cancel my trip.
Fortunately, the most intense protests had passed by the time I arrived on October 31st. It’s true that I saw residual evidence of the conflict in the form of graffiti stained walls, broken glass, and students tent camps. However, I never felt unsafe during my trip and honestly I felt more at home in Barcelona than I do in Seville because of its cultural similarities to New York City.
Putting it all in perspective
America has been experiencing its own political trials and tribulations. The hyper-polarization of politics, high levels of xeno-phobia, and economic turmoil are just a few things that have played on my mind. Sadly, I’ve found myself wondering if our country has permanently lost its way.
Why do America’s problems seem so daunting?
One of my friends host parents in Seville told her that America is “a baby country.” What does this mean?
Spain has been around for almost 6 centuries. As a consequence, they have encountered great conflict in the past and know from experience that things work themselves out in the end. In contrast, the United States of America has been an independent country for less than 300 years. There’s a certain level of confidence that comes with age and as a younger country it’s natural our anxiety runs higher. Our destiny seems more uncertain and our problems more poignant. However, studying abroad has taught me every country has its own problems and while the details are unique, the themes are fairly universal. We’re not alone and all is not lost. We’re all just finding our way.