On Saturday there was a regrettable incident in Barcelona city to do with the yellow ribbons that symbolise the demand for the release of Catalonia’s political prisoners. A man and a woman got into a fistfight. He claims she kicked him in the groin whereas she alleges that he punched her in the face and broke her nose. He says there was no political motive and that he merely reproached her for dropping the pieces of yellow ribbon she was removing onto the ground. However, she claims that she was attacked precisely because she was taking down yellow ribbons. What actually happened remains unclear and we will have to wait for reports to be filed before we can ascertain what exactly went down. Either way, we do know what happened in the aftermath of the incident: Ciudadanos and the Partido Popular had no qualms about capitalising on the punch-up to afford credence to their prophecy of a violent outburst in the streets of Catalonia, which allegedly makes life unbearable. They rushed to light the fire that they have been announcing but has never been lit (and should never be) in the streets of Catalonia.
It is not the first time that we have had this sort of situation and it won’t be the last. Therefore, this is not the first time (and it won’t be the last) that the pro-independence movement will need to be reminded that theirs is essentially an exemplary peaceful demand, and they have staged massive demonstrations on Catalonia’s National Day for the last eight years and huge, trouble-free marches to call for the release of the political prisoners. No violence has ever come from their ranks. In fact, it is the Spanish police, which the PP government sent to Catalan polling stations on October 1, who beat up peaceful members of the public. And the violence has also come from far-right unionist groups, who seem to have been given a free hand and are roaming the streets. An off-duty Spanish police officer assaulted Catalan journalist Jordi Borràs.
The independence movement knows that acting in a peaceful manner and voicing their demands and views with civility is its greatest political asset. Provocations of all sorts are to be expected from the political parties that hope to ignite street violence so that the independence movement can be discredited internationally and cracked down on. So far they have failed and it should remain that way, no matter how hard they try to elicit a violent response.
Catalonia’s pro-independence movement must act in a positive way and with a spirit of civic, democratic exemplarity, ignoring any actions that might jeopardise peaceful coexistence in the streets of Catalonia. It’s not easy, but there is no doubt that the only strategy that will protect social peace and advance the cause of independence is civic-mindedness, persuasion and perseverance whilst standing up for their views peacefully and democratically. Taking down yellow ribbons is not the same as putting them up, but freedom of expression —which protects everyone’s views— must prevail over any symbol. The provocations coming from those who wish to see the independence process discredited and an end to peaceful coexistence must be shunned and rejected. Not one single provocation merits a response.