Alt scríofa ag:
Armagh SFRY Activist Seán Fearon represented SFRY at Acampada Jove in Catalonia last weekend.
There are few sights as peculiar as a child scampering to the top of a tower constructed of only three other people, their only support being the shoulders of the person below them; more so when this tower, a spectacular Catalan tradition, is erected on the main road in the centre of a town on a Saturday. One would expect, based on the usual experiences and attitudes found within Irish society, a line of angry motorists, shocked onlookers and remarks all carrying the general sentiment of: “look at those eejits”. However, having spent three days soaking in a culture and a festival that shattered all my presupposed expectations of Catalonia, it was, at this stage, perfectly natural to see motorists applauding, onlookers still infatuated with by this ostensibly repetitive spectacle, and to hear the air filled by the cheers and the spirit of a crowd that was typical of any crowd at Acampada Jove in Montblanc from the 18th-20th July 2013. This small moment now seems to embody everything that makes the Catalonian struggle for independence the beacon for those struggling likewise around the world: the self-respect and appreciation of their culture, the dizzying scale of the demonstrations of the Left Republican movement, and, at the risk of sounding too grandiose, the unstoppable forward momentum, the climb to the stars, earned by JERC and Esquerra in their fight to secure their inevitable liberation from the Spanish state.
I spent four days in Catalonia as a delegate at Acampada Jove, a music festival quite unlike any that will likely appear in Ireland in the near future. Eighteen years ago JERC (The youth wing of ERC, or Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, commonly referred to as just Esquerra) launched a small music festival focused solely around celebrating the ideas of Left Republicanism and Catalonian culture that has since become the biggest music festival in the province, drawing a crowd of anywhere between 15,000-25,000 young people, all paying to see the most popular music acts of the Catalan countries. Apart from the size of the event itself, what is more impressive is the fact that this festival is almost entirely set up by JERC activists, about 450 this year (almost half of the entire membership of JERC), who devote endless hours to meticulous planning, promotion and manual labour to create something that they are justifiably proud of. Bar work, security, stage assistance and the actual creation of the camp, everything except the construction of the main stage (which, by law, must be erected by professionals) is carried out by activists aged 14 to 28. Many work 12 hour shifts, to be rewarded with a 3 hour sleep, only to rise again to work. What seemed like a gruelling endeavour was carefully expounded by Gerard Gomez (National Spokesperson of JERC) when he addressed a crowd of activists on the first night, calling on people to honour their republican principles: “if you don’t do your one hour, someone else must do two hours. We are republicans”. Quite simply, Acampada Jove would not happen were it not for the unshakeable dedication and inspiring comradery of hundreds of JERC activists.
It should not surprise many that such a crowd will flock to a festival that is so politicized, where the main stage is flanked by two massive banners displaying the focal points of the Left Republican movement in Catalonia: Socialism, Feminism, Republicanism, Sexual Freedom, Independence, Jobs, Houses, Language, and Solidarity. After all, recent polls in the state of Catalonia suggest 75% support for independence from Spain, a lot of which can be put down to the economic treatment of Catalonia by the Spanish parliament in Madrid. Catalonia receives 16 billion Euro less than it provides to the federal government and comprises 24% of the Spanish economy, including 30% of its exports. 10% of the GDP of Catalonia is taken by Spain; appalling considering German states for example can lose only 4% by law to the national government. 75% of all toll bridges in Spain are situated in Catalonia, not a cent of the revenue of which will ever remain there. Of course, this support was exemplified in the monstrous demonstration on 11th September (the Catalan national day, commemorating the day that Catalonia was defeated by the French monarchy in 1714 and became entirely subject to a Spanish state headed by a relative of the French monarch, a legacy which remains to this day) last year in which 1.5 million people, a fifth of the population of the state of Catalonia, took to the streets of Barcelona to demand independence from a crumbling Spanish state. It was organised by the ANC (Catalan National Assembly) who, this September, will follow this momentous occasion by drawing the world’s attention to the unity and the determination of the Catalan people to win independence by forming a human chain 400km long (from the East coast of the Iberian Peninsula to the Catalan-Spanish border) that will require the participation of 400,000-600,000 people. Think of 1/3 of the population of the Six Counties linking hands. No words can do justice to the sheer magnitude of this movement, one that enjoys overwhelming support, in Catalonia at least.
As for the rest of the Catalan countries, poll results remain dubious. My guide, Rubo, assured me that Valencia remains steadfastly in favour of a union with Spain, while the Catalan islands of Ibiza, Menorca and Mallorca show signs of increased support. This prompted an interesting discussion between me, members of JERC and of the Basque delegation at a riveting question and answers session on Saturday. Currently, the plan for Left Republicans is to see the state of Catalonia gain independence in 2014 through a referendum. This will, of course, mean excluding the remaining Catalan countries. The Basque movement plan to attempt something similar, assuming electoral support is sufficient, by separating from Spain but leaving the French occupied region behind. Parallels were immediately drawn between these plans and the partition of Ireland and the effect splitting a nation into two or more parts can have on the momentum of nationalist sentiment and the apathy that will invariably rise in a liberated region, regardless of the fate of colonised comrades. Both the Catalan activists and the Basque delegation reaffirmed their willingness to work and their belief that partial independence will act as a stepping stone and an inspiration in areas where the idea is less popular (Valencia, for instance). There are little other options available, however I remain unconvinced – it is hard to imagine the aforementioned energy that exists within Catalonia being apparent in years to come, and one must remain sceptical of the power of apathy and it’s crippling effect on political activism.
One thing that was made clear to me was the incredible support that exists for Irish Republicanism within the Left Republican movement in Catalonia, as evidenced by the ceaselessly hospitable JERC activists and even the townspeople of Montblanc. Long Kesh T-shirts were on display and many were even wearing Irish soccer jerseys, with more pride than many in Ireland have been able to muster in recent years. In fact, the first Catalan Republican party, Nosaltres Sols, was named after Sinn Féin, the Catalan translation to English being some variation of “we ourselves”. For the first few days it was impossible to pay for any meals, for example, and my annoying habit of asking an endless string of awkward questions was accommodated graciously by all who suffered it. I learned of the violent history of the Spanish Civil War and the devastating effect it had on the Republican independence movement. Three months after its formation in 1931 Esquerra won 74% of the popular vote and an absolute majority in the Catalonian parliament. Following the outbreak of civil war it merged into a popular front to combat General Franco and the Fascist coup, during which 40,000 party members were killed in fighting. The President of Esquerra at the time, Lluis Companys fled the country following Franco’s decision to slaughter his political opposition, but was caught in France in 1940 by the German Gestapo and executed following a military trial.
The Left Republican movement as it is presently is something extraordinarily different than that of which exists in Ireland. Hundreds of esteladas (the Catalan flag) are shown proudly, from balconies, from tents, from public buildings and restaurants, from market stalls and bus shelters, from backpacks, clothes and those that hang on the backs of elated campers and activists alike. This incredible movement as conveyed at Acampada Jove is exemplified when literally thousands of people, at the camp or in Montblanc, periodically erupt into seemingly habitual but invariably awe inspiring roars of their cry for freedom: ‘in, inde, inde-pendenc-ia’. It is a movement that is embodied by the seas of young people who share a love for their music, their culture, a love of all things Catalan; but, above all, share the desire, the belief and a shared sense of inevitability that someday, soon, victory will be theirs. Cap a la llibertat!