After Barcelona Attacks, Catalans Look Ahead To Independence Vote

Sep 1, 2017
Originally published on September 1, 2017 8:10 pm

"No tinc por!" — I am not afraid — mourners have been chanting in the local Catalan language at vigils and marches across Barcelona, since ISIS killed 16 people in and around the city on Aug. 17 and 18.

But when Spain's king broke royal protocol and joined marchers last weekend in solidarity with the terrorism victims, the tone changed: Residents booed and yelled at him to "get out!" and go home to Madrid.

Catalans are using the "No tinc por" slogan — and hashtag — to express defiance not only against terrorists but also against the Spanish state.

Separatists rule Spain's northeast region of Catalonia, which has its own language, culture, history and holidays. Last month's ISIS attacks hit during a campaign for independence.

So when Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy arrived in Barcelona several hours after the attacks, he appealed for unity.

"It's important that we're capable of working together — like a true team," he told reporters. "Unity will enable us to wipe out terrorism."

That infuriated many independence activists, who interpreted Rajoy's comments, and the Spanish king's appearance in Barcelona, as challenges to the independence movement — and to regional officials' authority.

"Right after the attack, a lot of people in the independence movement had this feeling that the attack was being used by the Madrid press and politicians as a way of attacking independence," says Liz Castro, an American immigrant to Barcelona and convert to the Catalan independence cause. "There were immediately editorials that said, 'Catalans must give up this silly game of independence, because this is really serious.' "

Catalan leaders say they will not give up. They vow to go ahead with a referendum on Oct. 1 and declare independence from Spain if the "yes" votes win.

Madrid says the whole thing is unconstitutional.

The terrorist attacks have given Catalan and Spanish politicians one more thing to argue about. They trade barbs daily over which level of government — regional or national — is to blame for failing to detect ISIS militants before it was too late.

In a recent TV interview, when Catalan Interior Minister Joaquim Forn read out the names of the victims, he made a distinction between "Catalans" and "Spanish nationals" — as though they were already from two different countries.

Meanwhile, rank-and-file police officers are trying to get to the bottom of how a Muslim imam managed to quickly and quietly radicalize 12 local youths into ISIS attackers.

Inspector Albert Oliva, with the Catalan regional police, called the Mossos, says the regional and national forces have been working well together.

"We've actually had good relations between regional and national police forces," says Oliva. "Within 15 minutes of the attack, we'd set up a coordination center together. So to color the police response with controversies and accusations — that's the unfortunate work of politicians and the media."

Spain has seen this before. Politicians and the media exploited the deadliest Islamist attack in Europe, the 2004 Madrid train bombings, which killed nearly 200 people just days before a national election.

The party favored to win, Rajoy's conservative Popular Party, mistakenly blamed the attacks on Basque separatists. So did most conservative newspapers. The public felt duped, and delivered a surprise victory at the polls to the opposition Socialists.

Last month's Catalonia attacks took place six weeks before an independence referendum. This time, it's unclear how voters will react.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Many Europeans have become accustomed to seeing candlelight vigils and piles of flowers in city squares - memorials to terror victims. They're in Paris, Berlin, London and now Barcelona, where ISIS plowed a van into pedestrians last month.

As Lauren Frayer reports from that city, the commemorations in Barcelona have been different. They're colored by the region's upcoming independence referendum.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Chanting) No tinc por. No tinc por.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: No tinc por. I am not afraid, they chant in a local Catalan language at vigils and marches across Barcelona since ISIS killed 16 people in and around the city. When Spain's king joined marchers last weekend in solidarity with the terror victims, the tone changed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Foreign language chanted).

FRAYER: Locals booed and yelled at him to get out and go home to Madrid. Catalans are using that refrain - I am not afraid - to express defiance not only against terrorists but also against the Spanish state. Separatists rule this northeast region of Catalonia, which has its own culture. The ISIS attacks hit during a campaign for independence. So when Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy arrived several hours after the attacks, he called for unity.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARIANO RAJOY: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: That infuriated independence activist Liz Castro, an American convert to the Catalan cause.

LIZ CASTRO: Right after the attack, a lot of people in the independence movement had this feeling that the attack was being used by the Madrid press and politicians as a way of attacking independence. There were immediately editorials that said Catalans must give up this silly game of independence because this is really serious.

FRAYER: Catalan leaders say they will not give up. They'll go ahead with a referendum on October 1 and declare independence from Spain if the yes votes win. Madrid says the whole thing is unconstitutional.

The terror attacks have given Catalan and Spanish politicians one more thing to argue about. They trade barbs daily over which level of government - regional or national - is to blame for failing to detect ISIS militants before it was too late. When Catalonia's interior minister, Joaquim Forn, read out the names of the terror victims, he made a distinction between Catalans and Spanish nationals.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOAQUIM FORN: (Foreign language spoken).

FRAYER: "It was as if they are already from two different countries." Meanwhile, rank-and-file police officers are trying to get to the bottom of how a Muslim imam managed to quickly and quietly radicalize 12 local youth into ISIS attackers. Inspector Albert Oliva with the Catalan regional police says the regional and national forces have actually been working well together.

ALBERT OLIVA: (Through interpreter) Within 15 minutes of the attack, we set up a coordination center together so to color the police response with controversies and accusations. That's the unfortunate work of politicians and the media.

FRAYER: Politicians and the media exploited the deadliest Islamist attack in Spain, the Madrid train bombings in 2004. Those attacks came days before national election, and the party favored to win lost. The Catalonia attacks happened six weeks before an independence referendum. And it's unclear how voters will react at the ballot box this time. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Barcelona. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.