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Many Spaniards Outside Catalonia Rally Behind Government


Over the past week, we've brought you scenes from the streets of Barcelona, where separatists are pushing for independence from Spain. There have been rallies for and against independence. Those who voted in a disputed referendum on October 1 overwhelmingly chose independence, and the Catalan president may declare independence as early as tomorrow.

Well, now NPR's Lauren Frayer takes us to Madrid to hear how Spaniards outside Catalonia see this conflict.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: When she saw TV reports about some of her countrymen rallying for independence, 84-year-old Maria Feijoo Grande went out and bought a Spanish flag and draped it over her balcony in Madrid.

MARIA FEIJOO GRANDE: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "If I had more I'd put up another one, two or even three," she says. Several neighbors have done the same, and her barrio is suddenly a sea of red and yellow Spanish flags, even more than when Spain won the soccer World Cup. This time it's a show of unity against part of the country, Catalonia, breaking away.

GRANDE: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "They're breaking the law," Maria says. "We all voted and ratified the Spanish Constitution in 1978. They can't change their minds now," she says.

Catalonia did approve the Spanish Constitution a generation ago, but now the region is ruled by separatists who defied court rulings and held a banned independence referendum October 1. Ninety percent voted for secession, but turnout was low. Leaders nevertheless claim a mandate for independence.

GRANDE: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: Maria, like many madrilenos, believes that would be a disaster. She was born in 1933 and remembers the bloody Spanish Civil War. She wants unity at all costs.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #1: (Chanting in Spanish).

FRAYER: "Don't fool us, Catalonia is part of Spain," tens of thousands of people chanted last weekend in Madrid.

ANA GARCIA: (Speaking Spanish).

JUAN MANUEL DURAN: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: Protesters Ana Garcia and her husband Juan Manuel Duran accuse Catalan leaders of attempting a coup and want them arrested. As police units from all over Spain are redeployed to Catalonia to maintain order there, there have been sendoff parades...


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #2: (Singing in Spanish).

FRAYER: ...Where townspeople yell, a por ellos, like, go get them, as if they're going off to war. Emilio Silva is the president of Spain's Association of Historical Memory (ph), a group that exhumes mass graves from the Spanish Civil War and dictatorship that followed. The war pitted neighbors against each other, and those feelings are still raw 80 years on. Any challenge to Spain's unity, especially from within, inspires a fierce backlash, he says.

EMILIO SILVA: (Through interpreter) On his deathbed in 1975, the dictator Francisco Franco had one last order - keep Spain united. This is like an obsession.

FRAYER: Just when you thought there was little middle ground here, a small if noisy demonstration broke out this past Saturday in Madrid...


FRAYER: ...Where people waved white flags and unfurled a banner that said, hablamos, let's talk. Marco Alvarez is a madrileno in that crowd. He wants the Spanish government to explain why it wants Catalans to stay united with Spain, to counter the independence movement with reason, not with more nationalism.

MARCO ALVAREZ: I think the referendum should have been legal but that the government should have campaigned heavily for the no. But the way they handled it has led to this violence, to this confrontation, and now we have never been so tense.

FRAYER: And the tension is only growing. The Catalan president has said he'll declare independence within days, perhaps as early as tomorrow. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.
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