Some notes on the Catalan referendum

 The images of police brutality in Catalonia are sad and distressing but hardly surprising to anyone that knows how the Spanish state, the Spanish police and the Popular Party operate. The events of yesterday could have been avoided and would have been avoided in any country with a strong democracy. Sadly, Spain has never had a strong democratic tradition and it shows.

First some notes on history. Catalonia has a long tradition of social groups and movements, a strong sense of civics and community, and a history of libertarian anarchism and cooperatives. The Spanish Civil War and Franco’s regime attempted to kill that, but despite the monstrous purges, mass graves and repression (it should be noted that Spain has the second largest number of people disappeared after Cambodia and the Spanish government is putting every obstacle possible to excavate the mass graves), Catalan culture endured.

On the other hand, in Spain, the fascists were never defeated. Franco ruled from 1935 to 1975, with the silence and support of the international community. When Franco died, the transition to democracy was overseen by the military and the Spanish King Juan Carlos, who had been groomed by Franco from a young age to carry on when he passed away. 

People accepted, anything in 1978, because anything was better than the fascist regime. Promises were made, to Catalonia, for more autonomy in recognition of their history, but despite there being a Catalan parliament and government, a lot of those competencies haven’t been transferred. Forty years on, it’s clear those promises will never be fulfilled. The same applies to the Basque Country, which also longs for a referendum of its own.

This is further compounded by the issue that the same people that ruled under Franco’s regime, still rule today. The IBEX 35 businesses (IBEX 35 being the 35 biggest companies in the Spanish stock exchange market) in Spain right now, are exactly the same IBEX 35 that were the main business and financial powers under Franco’s regime. 

The Popular Party now in government, was founded by Manuel Fraga, who was a Minister under Franco’s regime and, most famously, Minister of Interior and in charge of the police when they attacked workers as they left a meeting inside a church in Vitoria-Gasteiz, which resulted in 5 dead and 150 wounded by gunshots. The event is known as the Massacre of Vitoria and was described as a massacre by the police involved themselves. The people in government now are the direct descendants of Franco’s regime. They are fascists trying to playing by modern European democracy standards, but fascists deep inside, and they still rule the country with the silence and support of the international community. Nothing has changed.

Yes, the repression may not be as strong as in Franco’s years, but the endemic corruption with more than 700 cases of corruption against the Popular Party (the party in government) that’s bleeding the country dry; the tight control of the public broadcaster by the government with blatant censorship and propaganda in equal measure, denounced even by workers in the public broadcaster themselves; the cases of torture in Spanish police stations and prisons that are regularly condemned by the United Nations and Amnesty International but have never been addressed by a government and a judiciary who simply shrug and say “that’s not true”, meaning “we know it happens but we don’t care and won’t implement any international measures to improve the situation.”

Spain is broken but not because a large number of Catalans and Basques want out. It’s because 40 years of dictatorship and 40+ years of so called ‘democracy’ under the rule of exactly the same political, business, financial and military, have taken their toll.

The campaign for a referendum has been brewing and growing for a number of years. This is not new. Catalan people have organised themselves in a huge movement of millions that should never have been ignored. They protested and campaigned, not just peacefully but cheerfully, in a festive fashion, demonstrating great civility and making their case respectfully. All they wanted, was a vote, the right to be heard.

Sadly, the Spanish government didn’t listen. Refused to listen. 

An overwhelming 82% of Catalans support a referendum, which is not to say that all of them support independence. They support the right to a vote. This cannot be ignored, but the Spanish government, with no democratic tradition, set in their authoritarian ways, refused to talk and negotiate.

It’s important to note the stern warning by United Nations experts a few days ago

“The measures we are witnessing are worrying because they appear to violate fundamental individual rights, cutting off public information and the possibility of debate at a critical moment for Spain’s democracy.”

On 21 September, more than 4,000 police officers were deployed to the autonomous region, with an order from the Government to “act in case the illegal referendum takes place”. 

“We are concerned that this order and the accompanying rhetoric may heighten tensions and social unrest,” the experts said.

“We urge all parties to exercise the utmost restraint and avoid violence of any kind to ensure peaceful protests in the coming days”, they concluded.

Alfred Zayas, one of the UN experts responsible for the warning went even further in an interview when he was asked about the fact that the Spanish constitution makes the referendum illegal.  

Stopping Catalan citizens from expressing their opinion, they [the Spanish government and judiciary] are infringing many articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Spain must respect European and International Rights. The fact that this referendum is contrary to the Spanish constitution is not extraordinary, that happens in many countries, but it’s a positivism that must be rejected. The problem is not that the referendum is contrary to the constitution but that the constitution is contrary to international rights and common sense. 

He later added: 

As an expert in international rights, I’m not pronouncing myself in favour of Catalan independence. I’m pronouncing myself in favour of the right for a people to express their opinion. It’s an inalienable right.

But a government, a power without legitimacy always responds with violence and aggression. This is how the Spanish government chose to respond. Closing all possibilities of dialogue, they chose the baton and rubber bullets (which by the way, are banned by Catalan law - there’s an irony there, the Spanish police attacking Catalan citizens with votes that are deemed illegal in by the Spanish courts, shooting rubber bullets that are banned by Catalan law). 

It was their choice. They could have chosen to let the vote happen and question its validity, but instead they tried to set an example the only way fascists and authoritarians know, exercising extreme political and police brutal force on peaceful citizens. Suspending Catalan autonomy. Taking over their finances and police force. Brutally attacking peaceful voters, elders and firefighters. Beating up Catalan firefighters who were attempting to protect voters and provoking fights with the Catalan police force. Grabbing people and tossing them down the stairs like garbage.

Regardless of the result, one thing is clear, the civility shown by Catalans is an example. Their campaign was a shining example of citizenship, a social movement that was strong in its arguments and respectful, in contrast to a Spanish government that used every blunt tool of oppression and aggression.

The voting stations were peaceful and in a cheerful positive mood until the Spanish police arrived ten minutes before the polls opened. The police brutality must be condemned in the strongest of terms. Their use of extreme force on the elderly, children and peaceful citizens must be condemned. 761 injured and hospitalised to close around 90 polling stations out of more than 2,000. That was their choice.

And, now, the day after, I choose to highlight something else. 

The shining examples of civility shown by the Catalan people who have endured all this with humour, creativity and a positive attitude. The images of people holding or raising their hands and singing as the Spanish police raided the polling station.

The images of elderly people who suffered the civil war, concentration camps and oppression, being given access to the voting stations first. People applauding as they exercised their vote and the emotional embraces of people, who longed for this to happen for so long and did not honestly believe it would happen in their lifetime. 

The courage shown by Catalan citizens who voted and stayed at the polling stations to protect them from the police. Who faced brutal violence and yet stood peacefully. And the ultimate courage and determination of the woman thrown down the stairs by the police, who left the hospital in the afternoon with a neck brace and went back to a polling station in order to vote.

That’s the kind of courage and determination that defines this Catalan movement.

Whatever happens now. One thing is clear, political issues and struggles are not solved with violence and brutality, they only strengthen the resolve of the citizens. Let’s hope that the international community stops looking the other way and ensures a referendum with all the guarantees and protections as Catalans have been asking for so long.

The right to vote, to decide your own future is an inalienable right and the overwhelming 82% of Catalans who are calling for a free vote must be heard.

No more excuses. No more violence of the state.

Trapped in the Twin Peaks Roadhouse

I haven’t slept well all week. My head keeps spinning. I’m preoccupied. Am I in a dream? Is it nightmare? An alternate reality? Or the actual real world? The new season of Twin Peaks came to an end, in surprising ways that opened up new questions, left a lot unanswered and offered very few answers. In true Lynchian way, dreams and nightmares, reality and other realm collided. I’m trapped in the the Twin Peaks roadhouse and I can’t get out of it. 

This series took me through so many highs and lows and when I thought I understood where it was going, it surprised me once again, subverting expectations, expanding the canvas, beyond what I thought was possible. It was announced as an 18 hour movie, we talk about it as a new season of a TV series, but this was so much more than all that. David Lynch, Mark Frost and all the other co-conspirators have created a monumental piece of art that pushes the art forward just as much as the original series did. The original series was the weirdest and most challenging network TV ever produced. Twenty five years later, they’ve done it again.

I remember coming out of the theatre after watching Lost Highway. The movie had stirred so many emotions in me during the screening, the way that only David Lynch can, taking you from one extreme to another, often in the very same scene. By the end of the movie, I was exhausted. I was a mess. I was burned out. I was angry. I was frustrated. I couldn’t understand the movie and I rejected it. But then, something strange happened. I couldn’t let the movie go. I couldn’t get it out of my head. I kept thinking about it, coming up with new ways to understand it. And, I assume, that as I couldn’t go back and watch it again and again, I started constructing my own reality of Lost Highway, my own understanding, which perhaps was my own construct.

It took me a few days, perhaps a week, to finally come to terms with the fact, that Lost Highway was always intended to be interpreted in different ways. Life is like that, art is like that, it poses more questions than answers. It challenges us in surprising ways and we all come to different interpretations and understandings. I finally accepted, that Lost Highway was not meant to be understood one way or another. It was meant to be experienced. It was meant to make you feel. And your understanding of it, your interpretation of the plot, could constantly change, and that was okay.

Of course, Mulholland Drive continued along the same path and Inland Empire doubled down on it. 

The new Twin Peaks not only continued the same path set by the original series and Fire Walk With Me, but it expanded the Twin Peaks universe. It opened the canvas further, not only in terms of locations, but also in terms of the spiritual and other worlds portrayed. It’s broken new ground and that’s one of the best things in it. It wasn’t content with just the Red Room, it had to also give us the Fireman, the creation of Bob through the atomic bomb, doppelgangers and tulpas.

But here’s another thing that I found a really interesting thread all the way through. The new Twin Peaks felt, in many ways, like an exploration of David Lynch’s own filmography. There were echoes to his own career and the films he created. When Gordon Cole, interpreted by David Lynch himself, spoke, it often felt like a commentary on his own work and what we were seeing on screen. 

The series also reflected on nostalgia. Here’s a series coming back 25 years later, and people wanted to see the old characters, see what happened to them, go back to the RR diner and spend time in the town that we all felt in love with. But Lynch and Frost didn’t give us that. Not only did we spend a lot of time in Vegas and Buckhorn and other new locations. The past is the past, time has moved on and Twin Peaks has changed. The cool, retro, goofy feel of the town is gone. This is a darker, more sombre Twin Peaks.  

There’s so much more to it, like an exploration of dualities and mortality. I can’t write about everything, but I do want to touch on the two part finale. 

Be warned: SPOILERS for the finale follow!!!!

David Lynch and Mark Frost seem to take us through a fairy tale first. Everyone comes together, evil is defeated and Cooper, the ultimate hero, wants to go one step further by changing the past and saving Laura. The images of Cooper leading Laura through the forest are just that, changing the past is just that, a fairy tale. But we know, life is not like that. Life is not a fairy tale. 

So, after giving us the fairy tale, Frost and Lynch change tack. The finale suddenly turns and twists making us question everything that we’ve witnessed. Was it all a dream? And who was the dreamer? Us, the viewer or the creators of the story, embodied in Gordon Cole (David Lynch) who forged the whole plan? 

Could Twin Peaks be a dream that is dying, coming to an end? This new reality we’re witnessing seems deserted. We hardly see any people at all. Cooper is not Cooper anymore. Even Dianne doesn’t recognise him. Laura is not Laura anymore. She doesn’t remember Twin Peaks or her father. But, traces of memory, may be there. She seems to react to her mother’s name. Reality and fiction blur once more. 

Then they arrive to Twin Peaks. No one’s there. The streets are deserted. The RR diner is closed (I think that’s the first time we see it closed), all the lights off. Finally, they arrive to Laura Palmer’s house and the new Laura, now called Carrie Page, can’t remember the town, the diner, nor the house. What does all this mean? Are we in the real world? 


In fact, when they knock on the door, the woman who opens the door is not Sarah Palmer. She’s not someone, we’ve ever seen in Twin Peaks before. In fact, she’s the real owner of the house that was used as the location for the Palmer family house. She bought the house, which is actually in Seattle, a few years ago, not knowing it was a location for Twin Peaks. She wasn’t a fan of the series. So, why did David Lynch, give this woman a big role in the final scene of the series? And of course, she says that this is her house, which is true, and she doesn’t know about Laura, she doesn’t know about Sarah Palmer. How would she? They’re fictitious characters, and this is her reality, her real house.

Of course, nothing is that simple. Reality and fiction blur again when she says she bought it from the Chalfonts, who are Twin Peaks characters we know and who are related to the spiritual, magical realm of the Red Room and the mythology.

At the end… we’re as disconcerted as the Cooper who is not Cooper and Laura who is not Laura. What year is this? How many years have passed? Why is Twin Peaks so deserted and dark? Why is the only place lit up, the house where Laura was abused repeatedly for years, where Sarah Palmer morphed into a bitter dark lovecraftian monster? Is Bob dead? And what about Judy? Should we continue screaming? Yes, in fact, we should. 

I don’t have clear answers. My understanding of the series keeps morphing and changing and that’s one of the greatest things about David Lynch and Mark Frost’s work. Gordon Cole (David Lynch) himself said it in episode 4 (see the picture above) and it’s hard to argue with him. But then again, I don’t think, that was ever the point.

Art is meant to stir emotions, to pose questions. This is David Lynch’s greatest gift. He stirs emotions I’ve never felt before. He moves me deeply. And he makes me ponder so many questions. That’s why Twin Peaks: The Limited Series Event is so much more than 18 episodes of a TV series. 

There’s only more thing to say… Thank you David Lynch, Mark Frost and all the other co-conspirators of this series. It was incredible. And thank you to Jeff Jensen and Darren Franich for all the podcasts.

Representation and diversity: creating little ripples to change everything

I’m white. I’m a man. And yet I I hardly ever see myself represented in mainstream movies, books, art and media. My language and my culture are hardly ever represented anywhere and when they are, it’s usually either a cliched, folk-type stereotype or a terrorist. Perhaps that’s why, despite being a European, white, male, I feel a connection and an affinity to people, languages and cultures that are othered, suppressed, stereotyped and mocked.

When the indigenous people of Australia talk about their culture, their language, their lack of representation, and when they are represented, the tiresome ways in which they are represented, I understand. 

Despite our differences in history, I understand them because my culture was banned and suppressed for a long time. Seen as backward. Unenlightened.

When the makers of Cleverman said they wanted to create a hero, or super hero story for their kids because they never had one to look up to and were tired of the same stereotypes again and again, it sounded so familiar to me.

Or when they talk about all the indigenous languages that have died and all the others that are still at risk of dying. Language and people are one. You can’t separate them. 

We fought hard to recover our language, we’ve come a long way, there’s still a long way to go, but at least in one generation it went from being banned, to being the core language at all public schools. That was a huge step forward. 

The indigenous languages of Australia may not be my languages, but I’m painfully aware of the fact that they’re at risk and I would support anything to, not just protect them but make them grow in numbers of speakers. Ideally, all indigenous people could be bilingual, speaking their first language and then English.

Diego Luna has been outspoken about his decision to use a Mexican accent when playing Cassian Andor in Rogue One and why that was important. To see a hero, in a Hollywood blockbuster, speaking with an accent like that. As insignificant as it may seem, it’s important not just for Mexicans (the Facebook post he posted the other day on Twitter struck a chord with me too) but for anyone who speaks with an accent, who feels othered or different day in and day out.

My own son, who is five years old and is bilingual, is already feeling different and facing questions that puzzle him.

I always speak to him in Basque, which I find it’s important so he can speak to his cousin (who is pretty much the same age), to his grandparents, to everyone on my side of the family and, of course, so he can make friends and play with them when we go to the Basque Country, which happens as frequently as we can afford.

Just recently, we were at a playground. I spoke to him in Basque. A girl, who must’ve been, about seven, stopped playing and listened to us. I think I was telling him not to go too far and stay in sight. The girl walked up to my son with confidence and authority and asked: “What was that?” My son was confused about the question. I wondered whether I should step in or let him figure it out. Eventually he replied: “It’s Basque.” “What’s that?” she asked again. “My dad is Basque, I speak Basque and English.” “That’s weird” the girl concluded and she run away, leaving my son a little bit confused about what just happened.

He’s already faced similar questions a few times, when people were totally puzzled by the fact that he spoke another language. Why? Your dad speaks English. Why do you not speak English? 

I know, the kids don’t mean anything by it. I know, they’re not being xenophobic, or racist, or anything like that. But, there’s no doubt in my mind that those questions will affect my son.

For him, it’s perfectly normal that he speaks two languages. He understands that he’s got family who live on the other side of the world (quite literally) and that different countries around the world, different cultures, speak different languages. 

He’s curious about languages and cultures. He often asks how you say something in Italian, or Greek, or Chinese. He often asks to play Chinese music, or African music, or Australian Indigenous music.

I work at a library and I love seeing the eyes and smiles of kids opening wide when they see themselves in a book. A couple of months ago, a little girl came into the library with her mum. The girl had a Wonder Woman T-shirt on. They were looking around for something and the girl was getting frustrated because she couldn’t find anything she liked. 

I don’t have a daughter, but I’ve always made sure that my son knows that it’s not only men who are super heroes, or strong, or adventurous. If you ask my son, he will tell you that Wonder Woman is a much better fighter than Superman. If you ask him what my favourite super hero is at the moment, he’ll tell you it’s Ms Marvel. Yes, there are far more male super heroes, but he knows there are female super heroes and that they’re strong, resourceful and equal to men, or even better.

Back to the girl at the library. I knew that we had just received the first of the DC Super Hero Girls graphic novels. I found it on the shelf and I asked her mum if it was okay that I showed her that. She nodded. I kneeled down and showed the girl the graphic novel. Her surprise and joy at seeing not just Wonder Woman but also Batgirl and all her favourite characters in one book was just priceless. Then I showed her the young Supergirl graphic novels we have. 

We have a mountain of Batman and Superman in our junior collection and very few with central female characters, but times they are a changing, and I think it’s essential that girls grow up seeing their gender not just represented but being being the main character, driving the plot.

Another day, I recommended a comic to a teenage girl who was browsing the graphic novels area. I asked her if she read Ms Marvel. She didn’t know the character. I gave her a quick run down of Kamala and her eyes opened wide. She was so excited and thankful for me telling her about it. Again, she couldn’t believe that there is a teenage, Muslim super hero in Marvel Comics. It was only later, I realised that she had a Middle Eastern surname.

I can only imagine what that meant for her but I think it’s fair to assume that she was so happy and surprised not just because she discovered a Marvel comic centered on a Muslim American teenager, something she would obviously relate to, but also because she is a super hero as opposed to being portrayed as a terrorist. 

I know how important that is because when I was growing up there was a terrorist group in the Basque Country and I know quite a bit about the misrepresentation. That because a small bunch of people are committing acts of terror, everyone that is part of that community, in my case Basque in her case Muslim, are believed to be terrorists. 

Here’s a short video of McGyver fighting Basque terrorists. That looked as alien to me as true blue martians. Unfortunately, I could only find the video in Spanish, but I think it’s worth sharing as an example of an aberration that I watched when I was a kid - I loved the series but, needless to say, I was incredibly confused when I saw this episode. My parents were sad and disappointed.

A couple of days ago I also read a Twitter thread that Tom Taylor (who currently writes the excellent All New Wolverine, starring the amazing Laura!) shared. A woman tweeted about her experience being abused on a plane by a man who objected to her watching one of the Supergirl episodes that addressed Alex’s sexuality. Mind you, she was just watching it on her screen, with headphones. But the homophobic man started abusing her for that and then adding racist insults.

“So, yesterday on my flight to Vancouver I was watching Supergirl, more specifically, the episode where Alex comes out to Kara.”

The awesome part of the story is what happened afterwards (follow the link above and read the thread, it’s worth it!) and it’s a perfect example of why representation and diversity are essential in mainstream media and stories. Which reminds me of Love is Love, a book where different comic book writers and artists honour the victims or Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, and has just been published. I encourage everyone to buy and support it. All proceeds go to the victims and their families through Equality Florida.

Finally, I recently had a brief conversation at the library with one of my ex-students. I used to teach at a local primary school. She asked about my son. We talked about him a bit and then I mentioned how much he loved Moana. I added that I really enjoyed the movie too. Her expression changed immediately. She’s of Samoan background and she was so proud of the movie. I saw her talking of her heritage with a pride and joy that I had never seen in her before.

And that’s why representation is so important. If kids are exposed to different cultures and languages from a young age there will be a far better understanding of the complex fabric of society. There will be less intolerance. The words of one of my favourite poets come to mind. The poem is long, but citing three lines from it, Artze essentially says: 

“someday they will know us in our own language
they will speak it as well as we do
and then they will know us as we are”

It’s impossible for us all around the world to learn and speak every language, to know every person in their own language so we can fully speak to them at the same level, understanding and fully drinking from the well of their culture. That’s impossible, I know. And I know that here I’m focusing mainly on languages and cultures, but the same applies, for example, to gender and sexual diversity.

We can take huge steps forward in diversity and representation; reflecting the rich tapestry that makes our community and our world. Writers, producers, directors, artists and creators, can make a huge difference, but so can we at libraries. Listening to our patrons and suggesting books and movies that may have gone under their radar. It really is not that hard and the little ripples every book or movie will create in people’s lives, in people’s perceptions of themselves and their neighbours, will bring about huge change.