The jokes arrived on cue: As a high-speed train from Barcelona, the capital of Spain's Catalonia region, crossed into the autonomous region of Aragon just hours after Catalonia declared independence, one woman quipped: “We have just left a foreign country.” Behind her, another piped up: “But I don't have my passport.”
Behind the nervous laughter, however, lies a great sense of uncertainty across Spain, including Catalonia, after regional authorities voted to break free Oct. 27 and the central government in Madrid quickly voted to impose order.
It is an extraordinary moment here. Spaniards are jumping on every news alert as the first workweek with Catalonia under Madrid's control begins. Yet beyond the play-by-play, Spaniards are pondering tougher questions about what binds a nation, about what Spain is, and what a nation called Catalonia might mean.
Nicolas Liendo, a chef from Argentina and 19-year resident of Barcelona, says he hasn't taken Spanish nationality because he is waiting for a Catalan passport. To him the creation of Catalonia is aspirational.
A nation is something that is the exact opposite of Spain. Spain is a kingdom. The US is a nation. … A resident of Washington does not feel like a Texan, and the Texan doesn't feel Californian, but all feel American. No one is questioned if they feel different. That is a nation, when all the voices feel represented, not when voices feel silenced. … We are in favor of a country without corruption, without authoritarianism, without the repression we experienced Oct.1 (when the Catalan independence referendum was held). We want a country that is more equal, fairer. We want a country that doesn't benefit the economic hierarchies, that is a country of the people. … It is a demand for a different kind of democracy.
For Pau Valvas, a high school student waiting outside the Generalitat (the seat of Catalonia's regional government) in Barcelona to see if independence were declared, a new nation is a clear protest against Madrid.
A nation is a group of people who think the same, want the same, who support one another. In my heart I do not feel Spanish, even though I have been part of this country for many years. But you get tired of all the corruption in the central government. You don't like it. As a young person, I feel our future is at risk. We invest money in Spain, and they spend it, and we do not get the money back, to invest in education, to invest in our future.
Yet many other Catalans, like Carmen Perez, says she has a dual identity, and a new Catalan nation robs her of that.
I am Catalan. But I also feel Spanish. I want to live in Catalonia, a Catalonia integrated in Spain and above all in Europe. I think Catalonia is different than Spain, but in Spain the regions are all very different. ... I think Spain has the fortune to have many personalities. But I think Madrid is very centralized and doesn't give us what we need. There was a plan to make Spain federal, like Germany. And this is very important. Oh that Spain were federalist! I believe the Generalitat has some people inside it that are not thinking about Catalonia globally, but in only what they want. They are taking us to ruins. Better put, they have already brought us to ruins. Because 1,500 companies have already gone (since the referendum), the most important companies here, and they are not going to come back. There will be less work here. This is a very tough moment for Catalonia.
Manuel Lopez put a photo of a slice of Iberico ham turned sidways on his Facebook page to represent the Spanish flag (red of the ham and yellow stripes of fat) “because we all love ham,” he says. Despite his sense of humor, he says the independence drive risks taking Spain backward.
If Catalonia becomes an independent country, then it would be the Basque Country, then Galicia ... next. And then we would return to the Kingdom of the Taifas, and then the Moors would have to come back and conquer us, and then we would have to reconquer again. Who has an interest in going down that path again? A nation is a territory, with inhabitants who are more or less homogeneous, with one set of laws for all, a language and a history. It is hard to explain. I have lived in Barcelona for 31 or 32 years. ... I don't ever put Catalan TV channels in my house. Once in a while I will put on a soccer match but with the volume turned off. I decided not to learn Catalan when we moved here and my son, who didn't know a word of Catalan, was forced to speak it exclusively at school.
David Ubico, who was at a protest in Zaragoza the night after Catalonia declared independence to support the region's right to decide, worries about Spain going backward, too, but because of Madrid's takeover.
Catalonia has a very old culture. … The concept of nation in Spain is not clear. Because it is very much determined by the fascist coup of 1936 (that triggered the Spanish civil war). And this history has weighed on the notions of nationality, especially for the left. It has been difficult for the left to identify with the nation when the nation comes from a fascist coup. ... I was born in 1951. In 1975 and 1976, I was in jail. There were a lot of workers' movements on the streets, there were constant strikes, it was the fall of the dictatorship. There was a lot of tension. I was just one of many arrested. My identity is internationalist. At the same time that I am from Aragon, I identify with any community that feels it has the right to decide its own fate.
Olga Moreno, an art teacher in Zaragoza who started an organization to regenerate politics, says that all Spaniards should have a say in whether Catalonia decides to become independent.
Today the Spanish Constitution doesn't contemplate the separation of territories. If there was a referendum it would have to be set up so that all of us can express our opinions. They think this is their problem, they don't realize that others are there, too. Above all we in this region (Aragon) with a physical border. I think we would deserve to have a say, too, to make sure we are in agreement with this.
Yet as Spain remains unsettled by this kind of polarization, the vast majority just care about their own lives. That's the case with Cesar Valencia, a car mechanic in Zaragoza who is originally from Ecuador but has Spanish nationality.
To me a nation is Spain. This crisis with Catalonia, I don't like it. Catalans and Spaniards are equal. Catalonia is Spain. It just a few hours from Madrid, and Madrid is the capital of Spain. … But it is not something that I care deeply about, as long as I have work. This could hurt the economy. Or maybe not. What I care about in life is to be able to progress, to have work, and to move ahead.
Nerea Fernandez, a resident of Zaragoza, says she has faith that Spain's democracy will prevail.
For me Catalonia continues to be Spain. But if Catalonia decides to leave Spain, Spain would continue being Spain, just without Catalonia. I am Aragonesa, from Spain. But my father is from the Basque Country, and I also feel Basque. Spain is very diverse. We are distinct in every region, but this is what is nice. In some places it gets very cold, in others it rains a lot, in others it is hot, people are different, some are harder workers, others are more happy-go-lucky. This is what is nice, this diversity. I do believe Catalans have a right to decide. But it should be done right. … I am worried about the future, but not too much. In the end I think it will resolve itself. I think at the end the two sides will find a way to talk to one another.