Europe | Spain

Barcelona / Revolution in the Air, But Where?

people carry on ordinarily while the political stage is in flames 

   “Have you seen the protests today?” my father asked that Sunday night. Somehow I hadn’t. In fact I had read the headlines only minutes before his call: “300,000 rally against Catalan independence,” CNN titled; BBC, The Guardian, and Politico read similarly. This time it was the pro-Spanish movement taking to the streets of a torn Catalonia. While many in the region, including Catalan leader Puigdemont, tried to struggle their way out of the straight jacket that the central government in Madrid is to them, many others stood by a united Spain loyally. The political stage was consumed by vigorous flames, a referendum called for by one side, treason claimed by the other and only days later Puigdemont was a wanted man potentially looking at a thirty-year prison sentence.

Soaking up the sensationalized news coverage in those days like a human sponge, there was no doubt about a revolution in the scorching air of those Catalan autumn days. But where exactly was one to find its manifestations? The whole day I had roamed the streets of Barcelona’s city center and all I had come across were people carrying on with their lives as though nothing was going on. Everybody seemed to elegantly follow their set course without political obstruction as the trees kept in line with the season, and, just like the leaves, everything seemed to fall in place naturally for everybody.

Of course I had simply missed the marching and chanting crowds, which can easily happen in a city of millions. But, even though there was certainly something happening somewhere, maybe on a more personal level of life there was really nothing much going on. Well, there was, just nothing related to politics, the government, and society as that intangible entity. Old people were doing old people things, young people were doing young people things, couples were being couples, kids were being kids. There were jovial conversations and laughs to be had; here an inline skating nanny zoomed through the pedestrians with a stroller, there the score of a volleyball match was the closest thing to a worry; as per Sunday promise, most streets were fairly empty;

Following the news like a stalker, one easily overlooks the mundane reality behind things and the smaller yet bigger picture of actual individual lives. News only become newsworthy when they disrupt the common routine, whose tales aren't as tall, but reflect the lot of the majority on any given day. The closest thing to revolution I saw that day was a graffiti reading “Defend your vote.” Some sluggish flags hung out of windows to timidly hint at a divide, but these statements were few and mixed – some for independence, some against, and some just seeking a peaceful common ground.

"Yet, between these societal lines, where the quintessence of our life as human beings dwells, our situation remains largely the same, despite political turmoil."

Without a doubt, political decisions shape our lives to some degree, whether we consciously acknowledge them, perhaps even partake in them, or don't consider them at all. They outline the borders of our society with laws and policies. To fill said outline with colors, however, each single human has to pick up their own brush and paint away individually and subjectively. 


An independent Catalonia would be an earthquake of maximum magnitude on the political Richter scale and would change much for many – may that be in terms of jobs, infrastructure, taxes, education, or anything else that shapes our general experience as part of a nation. Yet, between these societal lines, where the quintessence of our life as human beings dwells, our situation remains largely the same, despite political turmoil: we still eat, love and make love; we’re still driven by pushy desires, vast dreams and passion callings within us rather than fenced in by political frameworks; our pleasure lives on in the little big things like unlikely encounters, profound and meaningless conversations, aha discoveries, food sins and starry nights; we keep sipping from that glass or down it, whether it is half full or empty; we get carried away by nostalgia and the blur that is our favorite memories; extroverts will keep going out, introverts will keep going in.

Every small and tall thing worth living for is still around, whatever this means to mankind in general or one person in particular: quenching your thirst on a hot day; following a great tune into a faraway dimension; pizza; warmth; travel. The true nature of our worries is still more existential than any political discourse: we still need our pat on the shoulder, our quest for food and shelter goes on regardless of whether we live in a country called Catalonia or Spain, and, on a day-to-day basis, some of us might be much more caught up in the everlasting soccer feud between Barcelona and Madrid than its political equivalent.

"...the more significant rebellion is the one going on within ourselves..."

We might have strong opinions on a political matter, we might feel enraged, cry or laugh at its absurdity, but what truly matters is that we still have the capability to feel enraged, cry, laugh or hold an opinion.

Of course it is important to make up one’s mind and form an opinion. To openly utter this opinion and to actively partake in the political decision making process of a country is the privilege of a democracy, and a basic human right. It is our responsibility to shape the society, nation and ultimately world we live in as a whole according to our best principals and morals. This is true especially in times of dangerous and foul political extremism on the rise. Revolution, as a form of accelerated evolution, is a powerful tool in all this. We should take to the streets, rally and shout our opinion so loud that it will actually be heard all the way up, where societal decisions are made.

Nevertheless, that quiet Sunday afternoon in the streets of Barcelona is testimony to another, even more fundamental insight: the more significant rebellion is the one going on within ourselves, where we actively choose what life we want to live today and tomorrow; a life, which in its essence is relatively untouched by politics and whose decisions are of a more existential and direct nature. The life between societal lines is the biggest and nearest realm we engage in and it is governed by our reign and responsibility. In our realm we have the ability to act according to what we belief apart from any political decree. We are free here; free to make vital life choices, no matter what’s decided above. This is where we have full agency as change makers, where we can make somebody else laugh or cry, where we can be healthy or indulgent, where we have the responsibility to respect one another's freedom, where we choose our belief system, our profession, and our favorite pastimes. 

If we all do the best we can with our own lives, without harmfully invading the lives of others, ultimately that undercurrent might even become a torrential stream, surging onto the political stage. And maybe such a flood is even more powerful in the change it brings about than a revolution’s inferno. Either way, no matter the outcome of the independence considerations in Catalonia, people will adapt, or, if such outcome is unbearable, seek change again.

Meanwhile, on an individual level, life will go on ordinarily for the most part. One exception might be the political figurehead of the revolution, Puigdemont, who could actually face a swift change in his lifestyle and freedom. For the rest of Catalonia that Sunday faded into another Monday and life went on as it always has.




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