This is an old piece that I wrote half a year ago and then never published. But since today is the Diada de Catalunya, the Catalan national holiday, I thought, you know, why not. And while the piece was triggered by the Catalan situation (honestly, back then what wasn’t?), it applies to all instances where news are presented.
It’s a funny thing, really. One of the posts that came my way on Facebook after the referendum last year was one about how „fake news“ – out of Russia, as per usual – had instigated the people of Catalonia to push for independence. This, of course, to destabilise Europe. Now, when I say funny, I really mean „what the fuck is wrong with people?“, but for the sake of argument, I’ll play.
Have fake news pushed the Catalans towards independence?
I would argue that yes, they have. Mostly the fake news of the mainstream press in the 90s, who quoted then-president José María Aznar and his eternal, mantra-like „España va bien“, Spain is doing fine, when Spain was not, in fact, doing fine. Spanish mainstream press, and the government-owned television station have to be some of the least objective sources of „news“ I’ve ever encountered.
Let me tell you about a little anecdote that happened on one of my last flights to Madrid, about two years ago, I guess. I was on the plane from Zurich to Madrid, way in the back, and behind me was a Spanish gentleman, in his early sixties, I’d say. He had apparently flown into Zurich from somewhere else, and he had left something on his earlier plane. He pleaded with the flight attendant – who spoke Spanish, because in Switzerland, we speak languages – to allow him off this plane and back on the other to retrieve his item. Now, anyone who’s ever had to deal with airport security in any way knows that neither thing is gonna happen. Our flying still happens in a headspace of absolute paranoia, and regulations are tighter than Barack Obama is with Joe Biden. The man was told he could file a missing items report, and staff at the airport would do the rest.
The gentleman was not pleased. He lamented the lack of understanding in his interlocutor and lambasted the condition of both our country and our hearts. He felt that in Spain, people would have gone out of their way to accommodate him, but here, „en el frío norte“, in the cold north, we were too stuck on rules and regulations to help out a soul in need. I laughed a little, when I heard him speak about the cold north. He inversed the order of words – in Spanish, the adjective goes after the noun – to make his plight more poetic and dramatic. But my laughter also held no small amount of bitterness, because not only was the flight attendant already indulging this guy above and beyond the call of duty, Spain was and is the country where I have found the most abysmal customer service to date. I have never had the misfortune to speak to less helpful people than the employees of a particular mobile phone operator there; certainly NO ONE has ever gone out of their way to be accomodating, not even with shit that was entirely of their own making. There. In the warm south.
That bitterness, it tells me everything about my relationship to Spain, 25 years later. It is the bitterness of a broken heart. Because, you see, I once loved Spain, with the vigor and temperament of youth. But yeah, as they say, love is blind. Because, clearly, I loved the idea of Spain before I knew the reality of it.
This is my third fucking draft regarding this topic, and I’m really, really done with this shit. It’s my third draft because, while I haven’t been looking, the Spanish government managed – yet again – to go out of its way to do the most destructive thing it could possibly do under the circumstances. Because losing face would be so much more tragic than losing lives. Or something.
I feel compelled to write after all, because I have a friend from Madrid who urges me to see the other side. Not just any friend, of course, but a dear friend. A friend I would not want to lose. A friend whose attitude towards this situation I fail to understand completely, because I know her to be a good person, and I cannot reconcile how somebody who is supposed to be a good person could stand on the other side of this issue. Because there is one universal truth that cannot be ignored, best expressed in a German saying:
Reisende soll man nicht aufhalten.
It roughly translates as „travellers should not be stopped“. It means that if someone is going to leave, you will not convince them otherwise, not matter how hard you try. The traveller can be detained and incarcerated, but as soon as you let your guard down, they will try to break free. If they really want to go, no one and nothing can prevent it. It can go smoothly, like in Czechoslovakia, or not so smoothly, like in Yugoslavia. It can be a sound decision, or the simple result of centuries of resentment. And even if it is the latter, it might seem unfortunate, but that is irrelevant. In the last 25 years, nine new countries have come into existence. Some peacefully, most not. Some with sound reasoning and the economic power to stand alone, and some really not.