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How I saw the birth of a republic and its collapse into a coma

The days that followed the proclamation of the Republic of Catalonia were charged with many emotions. Here is one account.

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How I saw the birth of a republic and its collapse into a coma

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By Marc Figuero Delgado

It hasn’t yet been a week since the proclamation of the Catalan Republic and we already have a government accused of sedition, two political prisoners, a president in exile and the central government intervening in the Catalan administrations.

To those living through these times the memories will remain forever.

Here is how I saw it.

The Republic of Catalonia was proclaimed on Friday, October 27th provoking celebrations for some, fury from others and indifference from another, not insignificant group. While Plaça Sant Jaume, site of the the Generalitat Palace is, was fully packed to celebrate the declaration of the new Republic, no one went onto the palace’s balcony for a speech. No one asked the people to defend strategic places, like the airport, the port, border crossings, the main stations, media buildings and so on. This was no 20th-century revolution. Supporters simply celebrated, some fireworks were lit, plenty of beer and wine was drunk and everybody went back home more or less peacefully.

The next day I was approached by a fellow journalist from Israel.

“Where are the demonstrations?”, he asked as we passed the police headquarters midway between his hotel and Plaça Sant Jaume.

I didn’t know what to tell him, as there was no gathering scheduled for that. Social media was quiet and the activity on the streets was that of any Saturday: people shopping, the terraces were full, tourists strolled by Las Ramblas…

It was like no one cared too much that, somehow, the Republic had been declared the day before. Until we reached the Generalitat, that was. More than 80 TV cameras were deployed there, ready to broadcast worldwide any movement, all them pointing towards the façade of the Government Palace. But there was little to tell. It was the weekend in Catalonia. In fact, even President Puigdemont broadcast his message from Girona while he was having lunch in a restaurant. Still, the situation may have been quiet but it was not simple.

That weekend, between October 28th and 29th, Catalans couldn’t really decide whether they were living in a republic or a formerly autonomous region reclaimed by the central government. Aside from the president’s message, there wasn’t any signal from Madrid.

That Sunday there was a unionist demonstration, organised by the Societat Civil Catalana. According to Guardia Urbana there were about 350,000 people and, when the march ended, as has become sadly predictable at such events, videos of violence erupted on social media. Demonstrators were shown attacking the media, supposed immigrants, provoking the Mossos, performing Nazi salutes and even hailing Franco and Hitler.

Earlier that day I had had to take a train to my hometown and the carriage was packed with demonstrators. Few of them were young and there didn’t seem to be much room for chit-chat. I confess to feeling some hostility when talking in Catalan to my wife.

So while I didn’t know whether Barcelona of Madrid would come out the “winner”, I could tell there and than that something was broken in Catalan society.

Then Monday really was crazy.

During our weekly team meeting at the office, our boss told us to be aware of what could happen as some of our clients have links to the Catalan Administration and, with the Generalitat taken over, some payments could be delayed or even cancelled. And of course, we are not the only company with this problem.

The alert level climbed higher in the afternoon as it emerged that Puigdemont was in Belgium. Social media and Whatsapp erupted: ‘Puigdemont is a traitor’; ‘The republic was to be defended from the very beginning’; ‘The Spanish Government oppresses our legitimate Government until they have to hide in exile’… It was surreal, distracting and sad.

I realised then that the Republic was practically born dead: It wasn’t much more than some hours of TV coverage, and a paper stamped with the seal of a parliament

The next day, sometime after 12:30 pm, Puigdemont gave his press conference from Brussels and from our office, we all watched on a big screen. As he talked, we caught each other’s gazes, trapped between the incredulity of having a president in exile and the conviction that, at least for now, the Catalan Republic is not Catalonia.

At least for now.

Marc Figuero Delgado is a Catalan freelance journalist

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