Yesterday, I took a day trip to Girona, a city in the Costa Brava region just a half hour outside of Barcelona by high-speed rail. The city has a beautiful medieval centre, but before even making it to that area, I noticed a significant difference between Girona and Barcelona. The city was covered in pro-independence flyers, graffiti, banners, and flags. Although widespread in Barcelona, there was a marked disparity between what you see in Barcelona, population 1.5 million, and in Girona, population 100,000. Later in this post I will discuss potential reasons why this is the case. Below are some images which highlight the pervasive pro-independence political speech in Girona.
In the image below, you will find the Catalan phrase, “Ho Tornarem a Fer,” which translates literally to “We will do it again.” The phrase, which only started appearing amongst Catalan political groups recently, comes from a speech by Jordi Cuixart, a pro-independence Catalan businessman and activist. Currently, Cuixart is serving a sentence of up to 15 years in prison under the charges of sedition and rebellion, attempting to overthrow the existing political order. He is one of several “political prisoners,” as they are called in Catalonia, currently imprisoned by the Spanish government. Outside observers, including Amnesty International, have declared these punishments unreasonable, and many here believe that the current socialist government in Madrid may move to release them or lessen their sentences.
Geographical Differences in Support for Independence
Several days ago, I had lunch with an American expatriate who lives in rural Catalonia with her husband, a native from the village. She recalled her experience on the day of the independence referendum — her region was spared from the more egregious police action, though helicopters flew overhead several times during the day which she believes was in an effort to intimidate potential voters. She explained that in Catalonia, the rural communities support independence more widely than urban communities, likely the reason for more noticeable signs of pro-independence activities in Girona. This is dissimilar to Scotland, where the reverse is actually true. There, the urban centers are in favor of independence, while rural areas are more skeptical of the need for such action.
Earlier in my travels, I met a young professional from Girona and asked for his thoughts on independence. When I mentioned that I had met Artur Mas, he quickly called him “good man.” He went on to say that he finds himself neutral on the issue of independence — he likes the idea of an independent Catalonia, but says that pro-independence parties have failed to explain how Catalonia would proceed after independence. This lack of direction and clarity makes him skeptical of any promises made by politicians about the benefits of independence.
Game of Thrones and Tourism Debate
While in Girona, I also took time to visit several locations used in the recent hit-television show, Game of Thrones. Since scenes were shot in the city just several years ago, tourism numbers have skyrocketed. Though a number of locals employed by the tourism industry are likely happy with the industry’s success, throughout the city you could find signs of a different sentiment. Phrases like, “Tourists are terrorists” and “A Tourist house is a house stolen from a local” were all over, which actually caught me off guard. Shouldn’t they be grateful for the economic boon of foreigners spending money at their restaurants, hotels, and businesses? Instead, it appears that for some, tourism, and its effects on housing prices, is more of a burden than an asset.
Below you can check out several side-by-side images. On the left are scenes from Game of Thrones, and on the right are images I captured of where the filming locations of each scene.