Di­vi­sions tear at Span­ish democ­racy

Ri­val marchers in Cat­alo­nia must again work to­gether

Boston Herald - - OPINION - Rachelle Co­hen is edi­tor of the edi­to­rial pages.

BARCELONA — The flags and the yel­low rib­bons and the mass demon­stra­tions tell part of the story — but only a part.

To an out­sider they are part of the scenery — a photo-op as col­or­ful as the Gaudí-de­signed build­ings they adorn. But they speak to an in­ner pain — the pain of di­vi­sions that are cen­turies old and yet as new as the high-tech and biotech star­tups that are mov­ing their cor­po­rate head­quar­ters out of this, the heart of the Cat­alo­nian in­de­pen­dence move­ment.

Yes, Bos­ton’s sis­ter city — a city with a stun­ning har­bor, an­cient path­ways and the world-fa­mous Ram­blas — is do­ing what ter­ror­ists couldn’t ac­com­plish when they at­tacked on the Ram­blas last Au­gust. It is tear­ing it­self apart.

Cat­alo­nia, an area of some 7.5 mil­lion peo­ple with its own lan­guage, cul­ture and re­gional gov­ern­ment, has long been an eco­nomic driver for Spain. And that in turn has spurred an in­de­pen­dence move­ment that has grown louder and more mil­i­tant since a vote last month — a vote the hamhanded cen­tral gov­ern­ment in Madrid tried to stop.

The ref­er­en­dum passed by more than 90 per­cent — but with only 43 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion vot­ing. And so now Span­ish Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy has urged Cat­alo­nia’s “silent or si­lenced ma­jor­ity” to stop this mad­ness at yet-an­other elec­tion sched­uled for Dec. 21. It hasn’t helped that the jail­ing of sev­eral Cata­lan gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials has given the in­de­pen­dence move­ment the mar­tyrs it needed.

“Llib­er­tat Pre­sos Pol­i­tics” reads the sign on a Cata­lan gov­ern­ment build­ing — “free the po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers.” Yel­low rib­bons have be­gun to pop up on signs hung from bal­conies and on the lapels of peo­ple on the street.

And yet Cata­lans them­selves are deeply di­vided. The shops are busy, the cafes and restau­rants even more so, the streets are filled with tourists and lo­cals alike, and no­body wants to dis­rupt this kind of suc­cess. Al­ready wary banks and hun­dreds of other busi­nesses have moved their le­gal head­quar­ters out of the re­gion — just in case.

There are di­vi­sions here — po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and cul­tural — we can’t hope to un­der­stand. Imag­ine, if we are still fight­ing over stat­ues of Con­fed­er­ate gen­er­als what it is like to live in a na­tion whose civil war ended in 1939 and which had to en­dure liv­ing un­der the fas­cist dic­ta­tor­ship of Fran­cisco Franco un­til his death in 1975. This is a na­tion that didn’t en­joy full democ­racy un­til 1978.

On a hill­side over­look­ing Barcelona — Moun­tjuic, named for the Jewish ceme­tery that traces its roots back be­fore the 1391 ex­pul­sion of the Jews from that city — a mass grave holds the re­mains of many of Franco’s vic­tims — in­tel­lec­tu­als, jour­nal­ists, repub­li­cans. It also holds a small me­mo­rial to those sent off to Hitler’s death camps, an­other dark page in Spain’s his­tory.

And yet on a cool Barcelona night — Nov. 9 — in a court­yard formed by the an­cient walls of a cathe­dral, mem­bers of the city’s tiny Jewish com­mu­nity and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials gather to mark the an­niver­sary of Kristallnacht, the night of the bro­ken glass, when in 1938 hun­dreds of syn­a­gogues, Jewish shops and homes in Ger­many and Aus­tria were de­stroyed in the run-up to Hitler’s fi­nal so­lu­tion.

It was a time for re­mem­ber­ing and for com­ing to­gether.

It was the Span­ish poet Ge­orge San­tayana who wrote, “Those who can­not re­mem­ber the past are con­demned to re­peat it.”

For cen­turies Spain has been rent from within. Its his­tory as a mod­ern democ­racy is a rel­a­tively brief one, but a far cry from its trou­bled past. When the marches and ral­lies are over, its peo­ple must re­mem­ber the words of San­tayana and find a way to come back to­gether — to not re­peat the mis­takes of the past.

AP PHOTO

FOR IN­DE­PEN­DENCE: Demon­stra­tors in Barcelona de­mand the re­lease of jailed Cata­lan politi­cians as the cri­sis drags on.

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