Historically for Madrid, there is no such thing as delicate diplomacy. But that approach has boomeranged in the face of the Catalan push for independence.
There's a saying in Catalonia: "Fan més fressa dos que cridin que cent que callin," meaning that two people who yell make more noise than ten who remain silent. It's exactly this combination of no-nonsense, wit and courage that makes the Catalans so hard to defeat or beat into submission.
The central government of Spain, usually referred to as "Madrid," has succeeded in fanning the fire of nationalism in almost every Catalan household, by prohibiting their self-instigated vote for independence on Sunday. Probably not the most clever move imaginable, because in previous votes there has not been a majority vote for independence, nor was this expected a few weeks ago.
Becoming independent of Spain would present a huge challenge for Catalonia to renegotiate their economic positions with all the countries they do business with. Not a fun thing to do when you're just battling your way out of a huge recession. So a lot of Catalan entrepreneurs, shopkeepers and businesses, mainly concentrated in the business metropole of Barcelona, have stayed out of the arena, and just hoped that all the fuss of becoming a fledgling nation would eventually blow over.
Madrid, probably out of fear of losing its richest province, couldn't muster the same patience. If we don't crush them now, we've lost the battle, they must have thought. And losing Catalonia is like losing your capital, it's just not an option.
Madrid's merciless approach backfires in the digital age
Too bad for the Spaniards that the old way of crushing has become more or less useless. They were such masters in force and treachery: think of the way they crushed the Inca Empire in 1532 or the way they led the infamous Spanish Inquisition for many centuries. No delicate diplomacy or even fair trials, no, just zealous, unflinching persecution.
This merciless approach may have served the Spaniards well in the last few centuries, but in the digital and global age we live in, where all eyes are following everything, it actually backfires on them.
It has gotten to the point that Madrid has decided to send up to 4,000 more police officers to Catalonia in the coming week. "To keep the peace." The practical problem of where these police officers have to stay at night, eat or even use a rest room was a minor glitch Madrid hoped to solve quickly.
This is where the Catalan spirit and solidarity kicked in. Many hotel owners, especially outside of Barcelona, have refused to house the officers. Even a request to the mayor of Palamos to see if officers could stay with one of their own cruise ships in the harbor of Palamos was flatly denied. There are only two places for cruise ships in this usually friendly fisherman's town, but sorry, none of them were available for Madrid. Try again next year.
Three cruise ships hired by Madrid are now lying in the harbors of Barcelona and Tarragona, being ridiculed by the Catalans, because of the graffiti-like Loony Tunes decor one of the ships has been blessed with. The policemen are now being referred to as Piolín Policia (Tweety cops) and have undoubtedly sparked off many new Catalan jokes.
Knock, knock, who's there?
Piolín Policia (in squeaky voice)
Bear in mind that most of the hotel owners who have been brave enough to refuse Madrid's request, and are in the front line of this grim and possibly bloody conflict, are the same people who were NOT fans of independence of Catalonia.
Can you imagine what the rest of the Catalans are like?
They would even make minced meat of mean, old Sylvester if they had to.
Part of my family lives and works in Catalonia. My grandmother was from Barcelona, and fled to the Netherlands during the Spanish Civil War, where she married my Dutch grandfather. I now have both Spanish and Dutch relatives living in Catalonia, a region that I have become quite intimate with over the past 40 years of my life. I pray that Catalonia will find a way to keep not only the peace, but their sense of humor and entrepreneurial spirit. These honest and hard-working people deserve nothing less.
*Barbara de Roos is an independent Dutch author. Her website: http://barbaraderoos.com/