State of Independence XI
This is the last in the “State of Independence” series documenting the Catalan secessionist protests in Barcelona, covering the period leading up to the new regional assembly elections on the 21st December 2017.
Throughout December the protests continued sporadically, mainly focussing on a campaign to support those people currently held in jail without bail for their actions that led to the current political crisis in Catalunya. The number and intensity of demonstrations is vastly diminished compared to the period around the referendum, as people tire of repetitive and cold evening gatherings lead by Assemblea and Òmnium. One of the more unusual protests involved closing half of Plaça España for a musically themed demonstration.
But instead of protests, most attention has been focussed on the elections called for the 21st December to elect a new regional assembly. These were triggered by the Spanish central government using Article 155 to take direct control of the breakaway region, following the unilateral declaration of independence.
The election campaigns were surprisingly invisible in most of the city. Political rallies were relatively infrequent and tended to only attract direct followers – with the notable exception of a huge luminous orange inflatable tent that Ciutadans (a right-wing pro-unionist party) erected in Plaça de la Universitat. Protected by an array of prominent video cameras, the inflatable managed to survive five attacks and to everyone’s amazement remained in place for the duration of the campaign.
Aside from the blimp, the most obviously daily reminder of the election campaign were the hoardings placed around street furniture in the city. These played host to a continuous war in which the parties and their supporters put up electoral materials, while trying to destroy those of their rivals. The poster carnage was particularly acute in this campaign, not least for the very surreal and numerous defacements of Ines Arrimadas on Ciutadans’ posters.
Election day saw a slow start, but queues rapidly formed and some polling stations were overwhelmed thanks to the near record 82% turnout. After the violence and chaos of recent months, it was something of a relief to see a relatively normal electoral process in progress – in stark contrast to the illegal independence referendum back on the 1st of October, where voters had to contend with national police attempting to close the polling while members of the pro-independence Assemblea and Òmnium put barricades around the polling stations to keep them open.
Much has already been written about the detailed outcome of the vote, in particular noting the gains to Ciutadans (right-wing; pro-union) largely at the expense of Catalunya en Comú (left-wing; pro-union or pro-independence – no one seems to know, seemingly not even the party themselves) and the PSC.
However, the simple reality is that nothing has changed. The pro-independence parties have retained a slim majority of two seats in the parliament, but did so with less than 50% of the popular vote thanks to a system in which largely pro-independence rural areas carry up to 2.5x the weight of votes cast in urban and largely pro-union Barcelona.
This brings us straight back to the original problem: a fanatical pro-independence government intent on unilateral separation from Spain elected without even a simple majority of voters. However, this political version of groundhog day will have one major disruption: the fact that many of the secessionist political leaders are now either awaiting trial for sedition and misuse of public funds, or evading justice in Belgium. A further complication is tension on the appropriate strategy to achieve independence between the main pro-independence parties of PDeCAT (right wing, and borderline pragmatic), Esquerra (socialist and crippled by leadership that recalls the 1930’s with talk of a unique Catalan genetic identity) and CUP (hard left-wing anti-capitalist group that seeks independence immediately and at any cost).
And so while this is the end of the present photographic series, it is unlikely to be the end of the problems in Catalunya.
All images shot, as usual, with the Leica M7 and 28mm Summicron on Ilford Delta 400. I will write some more in the coming weeks on the choice of equipment, and the experience of shooting documentary work on 35mm film in an era where fast digital cameras and instant publishing are the norm.