In all my years of traveling (work and pleasure), I had never been to Spain, until last fall. Sure, I had landed in Madrid a few times, but I don’t consider visiting a country until you get to spend the night and take some time to visit at least one city.
Last year, on my way to Málaga in the south of Spain for a tech conference, I took the opportunity to spend two weekends in Spain’s most famous cities. First Barcelona and than Madrid. Sandwich in between would be time in Málaga, birthplace of perhaps Spain’s favorite son: Pablo Picasso.
In Barcelona, I expected two days of fun, food, and drinks, and architecture. But instead, upon arrival, my Über driver quickly tried to inform me about the impeding march. In my broken Spanish, I agreed but barely registered that a city-wide manifestation was going to take hold.
The hotel, also tried to inform me as well, but clueless I took my Leica Q and forged ahead in direction of La Sagrada Família, which was walking distance to my hotel. I figured I’d visit Gaudí’s masterpiece before doing the pèlerinages to Park Güell and complete my hands-on education of the unique architect.
Upon arrival at the odd, loud, mismatched, and grandiose magnum opus, I knew something was afoot. Increasingly everyone around me was draped in red and yellow. The Catalonian flag with the single star. Before I knew what was going on, I was literally in the middle of the largest manifestation I have ever been a part of in my life.
Thousands and thousands of Catalonians marching to protest the government in Madrid for denying the artistic region its recent independence vote. As you would expect, the issues are complex as Madrid claims the vote was illegal, while Catalonians voted in mass to secede. To make matters worst, the Catalonian leaders are either imprisoned or have fled to exile.
In Málaga and Madrid, the views of course are nuanced, with Spanish friends and colleagues claiming that the Catalonians vote was illegal and unjust, but that they would indeed agree to an independent Catalonia if a legal vote led to that fate.
I am not sure what will happen. As a visitor, it would be wrong for me to opine one way or the other. It’s not clear to me that Spanish democracy is being repressed and that the cries of Libertat are not being heard. Just as I am sure voices are also being silenced.
One thing, however remains true, having studied and witnessed a few democratic revolutions across the world: democracy is messy business. Getting a majority to agree on anything is hard. And to the Spanish people’s credit, they are trying to figure it out and doing so peacefully and with dignity.
Viva España! viva Catalonia!
See my portfolio from the march.