Catalan Independence Referendum Looms Large Over San Sebastian Festival

Courtesy of Karlos Corbella
Catalan referendum

Tweety gets embroiled in the debate and Antonio Banderas comments on the contentious issue of the Sunday vote on self-rule, which the federal government of Spain has called illegal.

While James Franco wowed fans at the 63rd San Sebastian International Film Festival on Thursday, a couple hundred high school students waving Basque and Catalan flags demonstrated just a few blocks away on the city’s signature beach-side promenade La Concha.
 
The demonstration coincided with others around the Basque region, to which San Sebastian belongs, in support of neighboring Catalonia and its effort to hold a referendum on self-rule this coming Sunday, a move that the federal government of Spain says is illegal.
 
“We are here as Basques to support Catalonia and its right to vote,” said 17-year-old Goizane Lizartza, a senior at the local high school. 
 
The Basque region wrestled with its own aspirations of independence, including a decades-long bloody campaign by the now-defunct, armed separatist group ETA, which killed more than 800 people, including police, journalists, judges and politicians.
 
 
So the idea of Catalan independence resonates deeply in the Basque region, with the Basque regional president saying last week that "there are two nations that want to decide their own future."
 
But as Lizartza and her friends marched by, 85-year-old Xomi sat on a bench and watched. "They are young. But it’s more complicated than just going to vote,” Xomi said. “You can’t just bang pots and pans and wave flags and say ‘we want to be independent.’ This the most serious thing you can do in history, declare independence. The Basques have always recognized that it was a bilateral negotiation. Spain is indivisible.”
 
The regional government in Catalonia, home to 7.5 million people and Spain’s second-largest city Barcelona, says it will go forward with the referendum and declare independence within 48 hours if the majority of votes say "yes." There is no minimum voter turnout required. 
 
Many Catalans, like Emilio Brustenga, a businessman visiting San Sebastian for the festival, say the fact that there is no census or guarantee of the reliability of the vote deters them from voting.
 
“It’s not trustworthy. No one is overseeing the process," he says. "And this is a serious question. It threatens my business and that of many Catalans. My clients are telling me if Catalonia declares independence, they will boycott my products. If I were going to vote, I would vote 'no,' but I don’t even want to participate in this illegal referendum."
 
Brustenga’s point is key to the divide. The fact that Spain deems the referendum illegal means that voter turnout could prove lopsided in favor of those that support the referendum and secession from Spain.
 
The issue is big in Spain, with everything related to the standoff between the central government and the regional authorities falling on one side or the other. 
 
Even Tweety Pie has been caught in the middle. The Spanish government hired four cruise ships to lodge thousands of police officers in Barcelona harbor in anticipation of Sunday’s referendum and a coordinated effort to prevent it.
 
The famous yellow canary, characterized by its baby voice and innocence, was broadly painted on the side of one the ships owned by Moby Lines, an Italian company that had licensed the character for marketing purposes. Warner Bros. tried to distance itself from the contentious issue and asked Moby to take steps to remedy the situation. Moby responded by draping material over Tweety, unleashing a separatist-backed Twitter campaign #FreeTweety.
 
Meanwhile, back at Spain’s most important festival, Catalonia’s pending referendum hung over conversations like a cloud.
 
“I’m concerned,” said one sales agent who asked not to be identified. “Everyone is talking about the fragmentation of Catalan society. That’s not true, but it still is a very troubling. It should never have gotten to this point. The Spanish government should have sat down and talked long ago.”
 
Catalan Films and TV, the promotional platform backed by the regional government, held a cocktail event during the festival. While few wanted to go on the record, the sentiment expressed among Catalans at the outing was a desire to vote. 
 
“I’m going to vote,” said one Barcelona-based industry insider who asked not to be named. “It is important we decide for ourselves what relationship we want to have with Spain. And it is not true the images you see on TV of angry protests. There are families there. People singing and laughing. This is a peaceful movement.”
 
A survey conducted by the Catalan government in July found a majority of Catalans want to vote, but are were evenly split on the issue of independence.
 
Antonio Banderas addressed the issue earlier in the week when he came to the festival to pick up Spain’s National Film Award. “Voting is one of the great concepts of democracy, but we shouldn’t forget that it isn’t the only one. There is also respect for the law, the rule of law, which is very important,” Banderas said. “You could propose ridiculous referendums like eliminating all those who are not our race. Would anyone call that democracy? Democracy is formed by many different branches of one tree.”
 
Others, like Neo Art Producciones chief Antonia Nava says that depicting Catalan society as being torn apart by the referendum is unfair and that much of the discrepancy stems from a generation gap.
 
“It’s like at the Christmas table where families argue about politics,” Nava explained. “It could be true that the younger generation hasn’t lived through the transition [to democracy from General Franco’s dictatorship], so they don’t appreciate the very important achievements. But it is also true that there are new questions to ask.”
 
 
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