IBCoM students Patricia Wahren and Lisa Stam are currently on an exchange in Barcelona. When they left for Spain, they thought they were going to enjoy the sun, the sea and the beach, you know, be students. Instead, they ended up experiencing police violence and political turmoil. For his part, RSM student Pol Prats is a born and bred Catalan who completely supports the independence movement.

So what is going on in Catalonia?

A referendum was held in Catalonia on 1 October. The turn-out was 43 percent, with 90 percent of voters voting in favour of independence. The Spanish government had declared the referendum unlawful before the vote even took place. In the weeks following the referendum, thousands of people took to the streets to protest. Four weeks after the referendum, the regional government unilaterally proclaimed the Republic of Catalonia, after which it was stripped of its power by the national government. In response to this decision, Catalonia’s top leaders fled to Belgium, where they will form a government in exile and wait to see what the future will bring.

Lisa Stam (International Communication and Media) is on a six-month exchange in Barcelona

Lisa Stam IBCOM barcelona

“The city is up in arms. The other day I couldn’t even leave my home, as hundreds of Catalans were on their way to a square that is just around the corner from where I live. On the day of the referendum we went to have a look there, just out of curiosity. Everyone is waving Catalan flags there and making a lot of noise, just so as to be heard. Many of the people there are students, and you can see that at my university, as well. We don’t have to attend lectures when there is a demonstration on, and petitions for pro-independence initiatives are passed around during lectures. The day after the police brutality, the university didn’t put on any classes, by way of protest.

“For outsiders it is incredibly hard to understand the gravity of the situation – what it means for the locals. For this reason, many exchange students refuse to choose sides in the conflict. But it’s not just foreigners doing that. There are Catalan students, too, who do not support the independence movement. Contrary to the stories reported by the media, I actually feel that the city, lecturers and students are very divided among themselves. I’ll be on exchange here until the end of January, so I guess I’ll see whether Catalonia can be united. I can’t imagine it will.”

Patricia Wahren (International Communication and Media) is on a six-month exchange in Barcelona

Patricia Wahren IBcom Barcelona

“Even though I’m trying to steer clear of the demonstrations, I am getting to see the turmoil from up close. Police helicopters circle above the city day in, day out. Around dinner time, the Barcelonans make a lot of noise from their balconies to express their anger at the way Madrid is handling the situation. They do so by banging cooking utensils against each other. I’d be amazed if they could hear it all the way in Madridheard anything about it in Madrid.

“I’m a student at a small private university where everyone seems to be an ‘independentista’. The university is not making a great effort to change anyone’s mind. On the day independence was proclaimed, we did not have to attend lectures, but being German, I didn’t feel a great need to join the demonstrators. So I just went to uni. A lecture that is normally attended by one hundred students now only attracted thirty people, if that. That’s the thing that’s been most surprising to me – so many students support independence. I just don’t understand the patriotism that comes with it. Surely after the Brexit referendum young people here must have got some idea of how complex these kinds of decisions really are?”

Pol Prats studies International Business Administration and is originally from Barcelona

Pol Prats IBA student Barcelona

“I’m a card-carrying ‘independendista’. Being a born and bred Barcelonan, I keep a close eye on the latest developments, even from Rotterdam. My Catalan relatives are all very much in favour of autonomy, so they are all out on the streets, protesting for justice. Before the referendum, many of my friends didn’t really support independence, but after they saw Madrid’s response, they changed their minds, as many Catalans have. Police violence and the way in which they retracted our right to vote have resulted in their becoming supporters of the independence movement.

“We are getting increasingly desperate about Catalan people’s fate, because what will the future bring us? Many of my peers don’t want to see Catalonia remaining a part of Spain. Youth unemployment is sky high, and the political system is highly corrupt. We do believe in the future. The events of the last few months have really united the Catalan people. But the main thing we believe in is Catalonia, not Spain.”