It would have been apposite, had it happened today. I was in the UK (and stayed up into the wee hours to be sure of the result) when the ill-fated Brexit vote took place. I'm in Spain today. But the feared declaration wasn't made. The fairly autonomous province of Catalonia is still a part of Spain. Independence is still hypothetical – a dream or a nightmare, depending on your disposition.
The inaction is calming nerves that have been frayed by recent events. The synchrotron whose user meeting is taking place in Madrid over the next few days is located in Barcelona. Continued improvements to the facility depend on shared funding from the Catalonian and Spanish authorities. Spanish authorities would be less inclined to part with their money, should it go to a foreign country. For this reason alone, independence doesn't have much support among the scientists I talked to during the first day of the meeting.
Independence looked like a foregone conclusion just a few days ago when a referendum on the issue took place in the province. It was called unconstitutional and meaningless by the Spanish but was at the same time elevated to an honorable struggle for freedom by their police who clobbered old ladies senseless in makeshift polling stations.
By this time I was ready to wear a Catalunya forever t-shirt on my flight to Madrid – not so much because I'm a separatist but because I support the Catalans' fight for what they think is right and just. The case that the fight wasn't right and just wasn't made anywhere. There was talk of economic disaster caused by the break from Spain. But has the prospect of hard times ever held back idealistic fighters for freedom? There were warnings of a domino effect that might bring down the European Union. But isn't the Union doomed anyway if it doesn't concentrate power and focus disparate voices? What does the political organization a few levels down matter? And there were endless arguments that the whole thing was an unconstitutional charade without any legal basis. Why would the Catalans care? The whole point is to throw off the yoke of centuries of Spanish oppression, starting with their constitution and laws.
This past weekend, the separatists' momentum was broken, at least momentarily. In Barcelona as in the rest of Spain, hundreds of thousands marched for national unity. The 90% who voted yes in the referendum turned out to be just about 40% of the total and thus a minority if the turn-out of 45% is taken into account. Even if not everyone who stayed away was against and didn't want to dignify proceedings by their presence, independence probably has much less support in Catalunya than seemed obvious after the Spanish police's orgy of violence.
It doesn't have much support in Madrid either. Walking around in search of dinner after the meeting's first day, I noticed an abundance of Spanish flags hanging from the windows of apartment buildings. It couldn't have possibly had anything to do with the World Cup qualifier taking place at the same time. At least to me it seemed this wouldn't justify quite such a strong outpouring of patriotism, meaningless as the game was after Friday's success against mighty Albania. I sit down in a bar, order a beer and some jamón ibérico and let the day fade out.