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After Democratization, Catalonia Independence Bid Unites A Betrayed Spain


Spain has plunged into crisis after the northeast region of Catalonia held an independence referendum last weekend. Catalan leaders say 90 percent of the ballots cast were for independence, and they now have a mandate to break away and form a new country. The Spanish government in Madrid is fiercely opposed.

And for a sense of what it feels like in Spain right now, we turn to reporter Lauren Frayer, who was in Barcelona for the referendum and is now back in Madrid. Lauren, hi.


SIEGEL: And let's start with an update. What are the two sides in this dispute saying about what happens next?

FRAYER: Well, today Spain's constitutional court has suspended a parliamentary session set for Monday in Catalonia, and that's where Catalan lawmakers are expected to both certify results of last Sunday's referendum and begin debating a declaration of independence. Meanwhile, we're getting word that one of the biggest banks in Catalonia, Banc Sabadell, will change its registration out of Catalonia into a neighboring province. And that's so that it can make sure that it will be still governed by European Union rules if Catalonia separates from Spain and is forced out of the European Union.

SIEGEL: Is the Catalan leadership showing any sign of restraint about such a declaration of independence?

FRAYER: The Catalan president spoke last night, and he spoke about peace and unity. But he didn't mention a declaration of independence. That's been expected in the coming days. Last night he asked for mediation. So there's a sense that he could possibly delay that declaration if he thinks Europe might send mediators. There is no indication it would, though. I mean, the EU still considers this an internal Spanish matter.

SIEGEL: The first time I went to Spain, it was during the Franco Era. It was in the 1960s. And people were reluctant to talk politics in those days for a couple of reasons. One, you could get arrested if you said the wrong thing. But another, there were memories of the civil war, and when the country had had an open political debate, it had claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. And the country was full of women in black who were widows from the civil war. Half a century has gone by by now. I mean, do people - is that part of the political memory of the country? Do these things like the Catalan vote evoke any images of Spain not just fragmented but Spain murderously divided?

FRAYER: Totally, absolutely. I mean, I've spent days talking to young Catalans who support independence. And they say, you know, I grew up with the lore of this repression. I grew up with the lore of us being victims of the Spanish state. But frankly I've grown up in a wealthy EU country, a prosperous place. There was the economic crisis, yes, but a lot of these people - you know, 20-year-olds - you know, they've come of age even after that. And they say, now I understand my grandparents. Now I feel something in common with them. I understand the feelings that they have. They understand this sort of shadow that they've grown up in - also on the Spanish side.

And you know, my Madrid friends - I know their families. I know which side of the Spanish Civil War they were on, and it's uncanny how this has broken down along those same lines. My friends who were on the Republican side generally are - you know, they're against the monarchy, and they're for, well, why not let Catalonia vote? This referendum was illegal, but let's give them a legal referendum. Let's try to convince them to stay. Let's, you know, do what David Cameron did and tell Scotland, look; this is why we're better together. And we're confident that they will stay.

You know, but there are a lot of monarchists and a lot of nationalists who just - they just feel like jealous boyfriends. How dare she leave? This is the rule of law. This is strong Spain. And how dare these people try to break up, you know, everything we've achieved here?

SIEGEL: And when people in Madrid or elsewhere in Spain see the video images that we've all seen of Spanish police on Sunday dragging voters out of polling stations, injuring - there were 900 people injured. How do they react to those images of the Spanish response to the Catalan referendum?

FRAYER: That's where I think people are really divided, Robert. I mean, you can be against alleged police brutality, and you can also still be against Catalan secession. And I've talked to some Spaniards who are ashamed. They feel like those scenes really undermine Spain's legal position here. They feel like the rule of law is on their side. This referendum was illegal. Some are frustrated with the leadership of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. They say, you know, he could have convinced Catalans to try to stay in Spain without sending police to raid polling stations and beat people.

There's also, though, I have to say, tremendous support for the Spanish police. And as units are redeployed from all over the country, there have been these sendoff parades - you know, townspeople getting together and singing, soy Espanol; I am Spanish. Viva Espana, sending police off almost as if they're going to war.

SIEGEL: Lauren Frayer in Madrid. Thanks, Lauren.

FRAYER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.
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