'We're totally fed up' say Catalans who want to remain with Spain

Barcelona (AFP) –


For Catalan "remainers" -- those who would rather this wealthy northeastern region stay part of Spain -- the ongoing violence by pro-independence activists protesting the jailing of nine of their leaders, has left them totally fed up.

Over the past three days, the protests -- which began after Monday's conviction of nine separatist leaders for their role in a failed 2017 independence bid -- have degenerated into nightly clashes, leaving Barcelona in flames and the region in crisis.

And in a region which is split over the question of independence, with polls suggesting slightly more people want to stay part of Spain than want to have their own independent state, the violence has only served to deepen the divide.

One place where the divide is evident is in the regional universities, which on Thursday and Friday were observing a strike.

Julia Moreno, who heads "It's Over", a student group opposed to the separatist drive, told AFP that since Monday, many students had been skipping classes, some to protest but others "out of fear or intimidation".

In the corridors at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, the atmosphere was tense and strained, said Moreno, a student of law and political science, accusing those in favour of independence of trying to force their views on others.

"They try and impose their ideology on everyone else, and you can't do that," she said.

In Catalunya Square, Daniel Ribé, a structural engineer who describes himself as "completely anti-independence", said that all the events leading up to the short-lived declaration of independence on October 27, 2017 was nothing less than "a coup d'etat".

"How can you now let them say that a judicial sentence is an attack on democracy?" wondered the 66-year-old.

"It seems absurd to me that we've reached this point, it should have been stopped before now."

- 'You're going nowhere' -

On Wednesday night, insurance expert Pablo Pujante, 38, tried to remove several large wheelie bins from the middle of the road where three youngsters had dragged them to begin a fire.

"I live here in this street," he told them, clearly wound up.

"What you're doing is going absolutely nowhere. You independentists have got it all wrong by breaking the law. Do it peacefully!"

For Antonio Llovera, 57, who came down to look at the damage, the protesters were just spoilt kids who didn't understand the value of freedom.

They are "mummy's boys who are misusing their freedom because they've never lacked it," said Llovera who grew up during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.

"We're totally fed up of this secessionist bid; they have robbed us of a decade of coexistence and we would like a new era of peace and quiet," said Fernando Sanchez Costa, president of Catalan Civil Society (SCC), a platform which favours unity with Spain.

The SCC has called a demonstration in Barcelona on October 27, which will mark two years since the short-lived declaration of independence by the Catalan parliament, which triggered an angry response from Madrid

- 'Emotional factor' -

According to a poll published in July by the Catalan government, 44 percent of Catalans are in favour of secession from Spain, while 48.3 percent oppose such a move.

But those in the "remain" camp feel that the regional government, which is dominated by the separatists, is ignoring them and letting all other issues slide.

Rather than focusing solely on separatist goals, they need "to devote time and attention to day-to-day issues like health, education," said SCC's deputy Alex Ramos.

For Astrid Barrio, a political scientist at Valencia University, Monday's ruling has widened the gap within Catalan society.

"When the emotional factor kicks in, the distance (between them) becomes enormous and that doesn't look like it will ease in the coming days," she said.

"As the situation becomes more and more polarised, there are fewer opportunities for consensus which in the end is the only possibility for channelling the conflict, because if not, we're going to have a permanent standoff."