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As a Republic Struggles to Be Born, Barcelona Holds Its Breath – New York Times

There were a few crucibles of emotion, in particular inside the Catalan Parliament, where the independence decision was made — and in the street outside, where a few thousand independence supporters gathered in expectation of a celebration.

During an acrimonious debate inside the parliamentary chamber, lawmakers bickered publicly on the backbenches as their colleagues made speeches. Pro-Spain lawmakers then left the room after making a final standing protest, during which one loyalist lawmaker also accused the separatists of being “cowards” for using a secret ballot to vote for independence. By the time lawmakers got to vote, it was in a half-empty chamber.

Watching the events unfold on two giant television screens, the crowds whooped as every pro-independence lawmaker voted yes to secession — and booed every no.

Then they erupted with cheers as the declaration was finally made. People cried. Couples kissed. Friends hugged.

But even then, after a few minutes, perhaps half of them turned on their heels and melted back into the city.

Some would return later, and large crowds also filled a small square outside the Catalan government headquarters. At dusk, a smaller group of counterdemonstrators also marched on the offices of the Catalan public radio station to show their support for a unified Spain. As the night wore on, some of them fought with secessionists, and one man was filmed punching another.

Even after nightfall, however, much of Barcelona seemed subdued.

“For now people’s reaction has been to continue with daily life,” said Antoni Segura, a political commentator and a history professor at Barcelona University. “If you compare it to revolutions in the Middle East, where people went out into the streets to express themselves, it’s a very different atmosphere. There is a feeling of: what’s next?”

It was a question that Anna Zaragoza, a 51-year-old civil servant celebrating outside Parliament, did not have an answer to. Ms. Zaragoza described a feeling of relief in the immediate aftermath of the independence declaration. “A lot of tension has gone,” she said. “I felt very oppressed with the lack of democracy. Now I feel relaxed!”

But then she collected herself and pointed at a police helicopter that hovered ominously overhead. It was a reminder, Ms. Zaragoza suggested, of the authoritarian measures that the Spanish government had said it would take to crush the new republic.

A few yards away, other independence supporters were similarly circumspect. “I’m hopeful,” said Aida Gascon, 33. “But euphoric? No. We don’t know exactly how the Spanish government will react.”

Mar Sanfeliu, a 51-year-old economist, had a fair idea — and one that made her fearful, even as she smiled about the declaration of the new republic. The Spanish government “will do whatever it can to avoid independence,” Ms. Sanfeliu said. “I know a lot of people will stay in the streets. But the Spanish government is very strong.”

For many, there was also a sense that this may have just been the latest twist in an epic game of table tennis between the Catalan and Spanish governments in the past few weeks. Both administrations have been testing each other with a series of incremental moves, none of which emerged as a knockout blow. “This doesn’t feel like a historic day,” said Mr. Costa’s partner, Imma Sanz, another independence supporter, on Friday afternoon.

For Mr. Segura, the mixed reaction was also because of the acknowledgment, even among separatists, that many Catalans still do not want independence. While voters in the Oct. 1 referendum chose overwhelmingly to secede, only 43 percent of the electorate participated in that vote.

“People are worried,” Mr. Segura said. “There is a majority for independence, but not a huge majority. So people are worried about the cohesion of Catalan society.”

As if on cue, a few hundred protesters then began to march past carrying Spanish flags. A few also carried Catalan flags, indicating their support for Catalan autonomy, within a united Spain. “I am Spanish,” they chanted. “Long live Spain!”

Fernando Navarro, 22, an economics student, seethed with anger at the separatists. Madrid would have every right to disband the Catalan regional government, and fire Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan president, Mr. Navarro said as he marched along. “The Catalan president has broken all the laws,” he said.

And within a few hours, his wish had been granted, as the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, dissolved Parliament, fired Mr. Puigdemont’s administration and ordered new Catalan elections.

The new Catalan republic looked beleaguered. Mr. Costa, now at home with his photographs, seemed on the verge of being proved right.


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As a Republic Struggles to Be Born, Barcelona Holds Its Breath – New York Times

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