Barcelona, 8th of October
By Cristina Losada
I never imagined that I would attend a demonstration where I would shout: “This is our police force!”. Neither would Isabel or Elena, from Barcelona, whom I was with, ever imagine having their picture taken with a policeman, with a cop! A young national police officer behind the police station of Vía Laietana was witnessing, in an emotional state, from his two meters of height the continuous passing of people that were shaking his hand while telling him “you are not alone” and were taking photographs with him. What else could they do after they had been called “animals”, after they wanted to evict them like unscrupulous people would treat dogs, after their kids had been harassed at their schools, after they had been called “occupying forces”. All of this, because of a single reason, they were the representatives of the law.
I do not think anyone could have imagined what they were going to see in the centre of Barcelona on Sunday the 8th of October. On Thursday, when I realised I had to be there and managed to get a train ticket, all I knew was that I wanted to be there. I didn’t know much more after the thirteen and a half hours of train journey separating Vigo from the square of Urquinaona. Except for the fact that we were living one of those rare moments that are called historical moments.
But, how was history going to be weaved in the streets of Barcelona? Would we miss the opportunity to say “this is enough!”? What if this call, almost without notice and summoned by a small and resourceless organization, ended up with just a few thousands of “botiflers”? (this minority of resilient members of the resistance that have for some time now deserved this -in their case – noble title of traitor).
It was ten o’clock when, while having breakfast in Paseo San Juan, we saw the first people’s flooding in. They came from the tube and train station. Trains were arriving full of people most of them wrapped in their Spanish flag, carrying it folded around an improvised mast or already flagging it. Those who were also carrying another revolutionary flag in this city that has now been taken for years by the “esteladas”(1): the “senyera”(2) weren’t just a few. It seemed the smooth breeze was meant to be.
A couple of buses stationed near us and more people with flags got off. I did not know where they were coming from, but I assumed that, as me, they were the “foreigners” whose arrival was being denounced by the separatists. The demonstrators are “not from here”. Grandad Llach had asked the night before to those who are still listening to him to stay at home on Sunday not to see the aliens invasion that was to come. How scary!
“They are not from here” has always been the motto of the separatists. Hence, it was clear that those of us who came from other places of Spain for the 8-O were not going to “integrate ourselves”. Integration is demanded to all that come from outside, to those who “are from outside”, even if they have been here all their lives, to those who are not from here, even if they have been born here. However, “integration” in what exactly? In what must a Spanish citizen in Catalonia be integrated?
The devout separatists that did not follow Llach’s advice and went out on Sunday in Barcelona must have been rather shocked. They must have not recognized the city as, simply put, it was no longer theirs: it stopped being their exclusive property. They mustn’t have recognized the strange species that wandered the streets. They were not aliens, fascists, freaks (well perhaps one or two of those, so what?). Those who wandered the streets in Barcelona were the most unrecognizable species for a nationalist, they were citizens. No matter if they were from Sabadell or Lugo: the citizen, for a nationalist, is always “from outside”.
On our way to Urquinaona we saw more and more of them. More citizens. More constitutional flags. More home-made banners. A young man with long curly hair came towards us and as an introduction he said “I have never done this. You are José García Domínguez and Cristina Losada, aren’t you? I follow you”. He introduced himself, we shook hands and he left, but by then Alex had said something that was etched in my memory: “I have never done this before”. Because this was the same for all us there. We had never done anything like it. Nothing like this had ever been done in four decades in Catalonia.
It must have been half past eleven when all became clear. There was such a crowd in Urquinaona and surrounding areas that it was not possible to walk. When we realised our number, we all wanted a panoramic view that was only, and partially, available to those taller than meter and ninety centimetres. Near the traffic lights, on the pavement, there was a stand just taller than a meter height. People were trying to climb over to see how many of us were there then. An elderly gentleman, walking stick in hand, tried to climb it. Luckily, his wife dissuaded him.
Half an hour later but only a few meters away, as we were moving at the pace of a tortoise, there were two young lads on top of another stand with Spanish flags and punk hairdos having a chat. One of them had dyed his short and spiky hair in red and yellow. The sun started to burn. A lady and her husband sought the shade of some bushes. We started to chat. “They have gone too far”, she said. “We had to do this”.
The more you looked around, the more differences you could see. Ages, social classes, styles. Everything was different but there was something in common. Something in common and worthy whose symbol was bore by many and it was the key and urgent reason of us being there. That common and worthy thing was Spain.
At one o’clock, turning into Vía Layetana we could see the panoramic view down street from a small promontory on the pavement. Packed. Up to the sea. From a portable stereo came the rhythm to sing: “¡Lolololololo, que viva España!“. Manolo Escobar’s song was an urgent antidote for separatist’s protests with pots and pans. We did not know the lyrics but it was sung nonetheless, as the national anthem was hummed, although Escobar’s one made a better hit and had more connection with the festive atmosphere of that people’s gathering. We were not there to be sad.
Groups of youngsters having outbursts of laughter went by. What irreverences and heresies were they unleashing from their loudspeakers? It is a shame I could not hear them. Good mood was reflected in their faces though as, despite the seriousness of the occasion, we are not known to be a damp squib; we are who we are. Good humour and creativity was in the banners, so varied and individual, hand-made and exhibited in the complete disorder and explosion of creativity that the 8th of October was. We may fail in other things but we give our best improvising. Sometimes, disorganisation brings out the best in us.
“We are not IKEA nor is this your house to proclaim an independent republic”, said the banner that a smiley girl was carrying. Before, I saw the one carried by Roger: “I only watch TV3 when Arcadi Espada is there”. Some of the banners were real manifestos. A man was carrying as a sign a photo of a magazine with Kennedy and some text of one of his speeches. A girl with blue finger nails had drawn a heart with the Catalan and Spanish flags and the words “All united”.
There were people coming out to their balconies amidst celebration. Like the one of a grandmother and her granddaughter (we assumed) that were watching the demonstration from a balcony decorated with the Spanish flag at the beginning of Vía Layetana. By the way, it was mentioned that many “esteladas” flags had disappeared from the buildings from one day to another. In the flat next door, one with a large balcony, there were half a dozen people waving flags and even umbrellas with the Spanish flag. In front of this, in a huge rooftop terrace of an old building I first saw a man shaking a red towel and shouting to the demonstrators. I wondered what he was saying. After a short while, from that same wonderful rooftop they deployed lots of Spanish flags. They had just bought them. Cheering and ovations followed from the street.
The chants that were called out were not continuous and they would follow one another viva voce from here and there. Not of all them would succeed. However, the most successful and vehemently repeated was: “prison to Puigdemont!” It seems that Borrel did not like this and scolded people a bit. Come on, no need to be so sensitive. After all that has happened, after all that the nationalists and separatists have done. Moreover, after all that the ones that should have opposed this haven’t done. Scold your own party, Mr Borrel. Go and scold the absentee Iceta.
Incidentally, I would like to tell Borrell what a lady told me at the beginning of Vía Layetana. Her whole family was there. They caught my attention because her daughters, two teenagers, had incredible voices. The mother looked intensely to me and then said with the same intensity: “We are well pissed-off. They think they are the only ones in charge. What about us?”.
This was the most accurate manifesto I could find in the massive citizens gathering of the 8th of October in Barcelona. This was the summary of what had happened and what was still happening. This is why we were there. So, that those who believe that Catalonia is theirs, that them and only them are the ones in charge, could clearly see that this is not the case.
It was necessary to do what had never been done to see if the nationalists stopped doing what they have always been doing. The Catalonia that has been exiled from the public sphere has come out. The Catalonia that was muted and silent has spoken out. Nothing will go back to how it was. It will be best if they understand this. This is it, they are not in charge.
(1) “esteladas”: it means starred flag. It is Senyera with a white star superimposed on a blue triangle at the top. It is an unofficial flag waved by supporters of Catalonia’s independence from Spain.
(2) “senyera”: the official flag of Catalonia
* Originally published in Spanish with the title “Barcelona, 8 de octubre” on 10th October 2017 in:
Translated by Laura Cano Lérida