Violence and Silence: On the Catalan Referendum

I’m currently lying in bed catching up on Twitter and I felt moved to write on the horrific images emerging from Catalonia during and following today’s so-called illegal referendum. Barcelona first stole my heart back in 2005 when I took a weekend trip there from my temporary Spanish home in Alicante. I then lived and worked south of the Catalan capital, in the spectacular Sitges, for a year after completing my undergraduate degree. I am shocked, sickened and saddened at the displays of police brutality in the face of a population seeking to exercise nothing more than their right to a democratic vote on the matter of independence. It is just a short time ago that similarly violent images emerged from the city of Barcelona in August’s terror attacks on Las Ramblas. However, the perpetrators are not evil Islamic terrorists, posited as radical outsiders who threaten state coherence and unity, in this instance. Rather, it is the state itself behind such aggression.

For Hispanists and those familiar with recent Spanish history, this violent repression recalls the all-too-recent state-sponsored suppression enacted by Francoism. To this date an unknown number of individuals, murdered at the hands of the Francoist state, lie in unmarked mass graves, their remains never afforded a proper burial, their relatives never permitted a fitting memorial or mourning process. Secrets of violent suppression under Franco remain unspoken, perpetrators have not been brought to justice more than 40 years since the death of Franco and with him Francoism. But the spectre of his legacy lives on. I cannot help but think that to respond in this unnecessarily heavy-handed (to put it mildly) manner undermines the claim that this is an illegal referendum. Two illegal wrongs do not make a right.

Just the other day I was putting the finishing touches to my analysis of the silent Spanish film Blancanieves (2012). The film is a case study in the first chapter of my forthcoming monograph on the interrelations of performance and politics in contemporary Spanish cinema. Directed by Basque filmmaker Pablo Berger, the film tells the tale of Snow White but with a difference: the story has been transposed to 1920s Spain and Snow White is a kickass female bullfighter. Oh and the film is both black and white and silent. I read this formal silencing as a political gesture, one that underscores the extent to which certain voices, namely those that do not conform, suffer from a violent silencing and suppression. I made reference in my conclusion to the current events in Catalonia. Tomorrow I will rewrite this section with reference to today’s horrific developments.

Memory is short. History repeats. Fascism once again rears its ugly head not just in Spain but across Europe and beyond. I fear the events of today will have caused irreperable fissures between the people of Catalonia and the Spanish state. My solidarity is with the innocent bystanders who sought only to cast their votes, to have their say in a supposedly democratic society. Barcelona, you have my heart.


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