Catalonia secession bid divides families

Separatists pledge independence if they win regional election

Spanish Prime Minister His party says the separatist debate is tearing Catalan society apart. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SANT FOST DE CAMPSENTELLES (Spain) • After a lifetime of hard work in Catalonia, Mr Rafael Corpus was looking forward to a quiet retirement tending his garden.

But his golden years have been clouded by a family problem - his son is part of the growing number of Catalans who want their wealthy north-eastern region to break away from the rest of Spain.

"My roots and my feelings are from Andalucia. I respect separatists but I can't understand that my son is one. I am even ashamed," said Mr Corpus, 66, who comes from a small town near Cordoba in the heart of Andalucia in the south.

Tensions over the issue have risen in the lead-up to a regional election in Catalonia tomorrow, framed by the separatists as an indirect vote on independence. Nationalist leaders in Catalonia have vowed to declare independence within 18 months if they win the polls.

The independence debate has triggered a bitter stand-off between the national government in Madrid and the regional government of Catalonia, as well as dividing families.

"It is not a problem of roots. When we are independent, I will keep visiting Andalucia and will eat gazpacho and jamon," said his son, 45, who is also named Rafael.

The family live in Sant Fost de Campsentelles, a village some 20km north of Barcelona.

The older Rafael and his wife, Madam Procesa Fernandez, migrated to Catalonia a half-century ago in search of a better life.

He worked three jobs at one point, sleeping just four hours a night, until he saved enough to buy a restaurant.

He keeps a weaving machine that belonged to his mother in the living room along with a family photo taken in Andalucia.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative Popular Party repeatedly argues that the separatist debate is tearing Catalan society apart.

Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz, who used to live in Catalonia, said in January that some Catalan families did not get together over Christmas because they were divided over the independence issue.

The independence project is turning Catalonia, which is home to some 7.5 million people, into a "divided people", he said.

"Catalonia is going to tear apart and it is tearing apart each day a little bit more," former prime minister Jose Maria Aznar, of the Popular Party, warned earlier this month.

However, sociologists say they see little evidence of deep divisions in Catalan society over the issue.

"It is in the interest of some to show a dramatic panorama of the situation in Catalonia, but it is not like that," said Mr Jordi Guiu, a sociologist at Barcelona's Pompeu Fabra University.

He said the situation in Catalonia is not comparable with that in Spain's Basque country, which also has a strong independence movement, or in Northern Ireland.

Many families are united in their position either in favour or against independence. Others just avoid the topic altogether.

For Mr Ignasi Sitges, 29, a consultant at a communications agency, the independence issue is never far away at family gatherings.

"We talk about independence very often," he said, adding that he and his younger brothers and parents were split on the issue.

"Sometimes we end up shouting, but we have never fallen out. The atmosphere becomes heated and then it calms down and that's it."


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 26, 2015, with the headline Catalonia secession bid divides families. Subscribe