Disappointed in Barcelona

A stage in Plaça Catalunya, Míriam Hatibi in the spotlight speaking up against terrorism as a spokesperson of the muslim community, talking into a microphone. Big screens playing the scene live for those of us who didn’t fit in the square, lost in the crowd and with no eyes on the stage.

An independentist flag, covering the screen right in front of me.

The Catalan regional flag is the “senyera”, four red and five yellow stripes. The independent flag is a senyera with a blue star, called the “estelada” (“starred”), like the ones seen in the photo.

When I left home the other day to go to the Peace Rally in Barcelona, I didn’t expect to return home disappointed. Actually, I was looking forward to it, because I’d missed the official minute of silence they did the day after the attack, I wanted to show my support for the families of those who were killed and everyone else who was injured or affected by it. There was little I could do in a situation like that, nothing I say or think will reach the victims personally, there’s nothing I can give or offer and nothing I can do to help. I thought going to the Peace Rally, adding myself to the number of people who attended, might mean something to those who need to know they aren’t alone after what happened to them or their families.

A Catalan woman yells to a bunch of Spaniards with the country’s flag: “you have the wrong flag!”, she shakes her head in disgust, waving her estelada around for emphasis. “Why do they give out signs in Spanish if we’re in Catalonia?” says another. Someone in the crowd next to me clicks their tongue, “Catalan! Do the speech in Catalan!”, never mind that people all over the country, who only speak Spanish, will probably also want to know what she says. Every time the king or Rajoy appears on screen, the crowd erupts into whistles, booing and chants of “Fora!” (“go away”). The whistles aren’t positive, it’s a piercing high sound that almost hurts to hear, a way to make more noise and drown out any of the president’s words. It’s common enough to whistle when politicians appear that we even have a name for it: “les xiulades”. The Spanish tourists in the crowd look down, share looks of unease, itch their arm in a gesture of discomfort, seeing the force of Catalan independentists in person is a bit of a shock when coming from other areas of Spain where the anti-government feeling isn’t so strong. The problem is when these attitudes don’t translate as only anti-government, but also as anti-Spanish.

Barcelona on the day of the Peace March wasn’t very welcoming to those who live in our same country, the passive-agression aimed towards other Spaniards made even me uncomfortable. This isn’t an anti-separatism comment specifically, especially considering I am also independentist, but there is a time and place for everything and it wasn’t the day for politics. The point of the march was specifically “we all come together to show our desire for Peace”, a moment of unity and all that. Whether we believe that we should be together as a country or not is a topic that had no relevance, because we weren’t together as one or as two countries, but as people. Bringing flags, either Spanish or Catalan, turned it into the typical and tired political fight instead.

At the same time, the Spanish language is not a bad thing. The point of speaking a language is communication, understanding, talking to one another. Knowing how to speak Spanish is an advantage, a tool, an opportunity; it isn’t words tainted by the tongues of our enemies. I speak Catalan most of the time, I take pride in my language because it’s my home, but there is nothing wrong with Spanish. A speech in Spanish, a book in Spanish, a sign in Spanish… they shouldn’t be refused or criticised for existing, especially in a situation like the Peace Rally where many people present don’t speak Catalan. Most of the victims of the attack weren’t even Catalan.

Barcelona wasn’t a Peace Rally, it was a political rally.

As a side note, they had a person on stage translating the speech into sign language next to Míriam Hatibi, but after a couple minutes they cut her out of the screen. Maybe they forgot she was supposed to be included, so that the deaf in the crowd and at home could also hear the speech, or maybe they figured it didn’t matter enough and focusing on Míriam’s face for dramatic effect was more important.


Lack of News

The other day my newspaper interviewed a girl in Nigeria. A couple years ago the story of the 200 kidnapped girls travelled across the world, but when they were finally returned home… I thought that was the end of it. It wasn’t the end though: girls there get kidnapped all the time, it’s a commonplace thing, and often women and kids are used as suicide bombers because they are less suspicious than men. I had no idea why the girls 2 years ago were even kidnapped in the first place. They were taken to be given as wives, as “gifts” (along with a motorbike) to those who joined the terrorist group. It worked too, lots of poor men who couldn’t afford what it costs to get married joined in the hopes of not being forever single, and those girls were traded off and raped by them as if they were nothing but trophies to be used. This happens all the time, still today, but no more stories have made the headlines. Those girls returned, with some babies in tow, and Nigeria wasn’t talked about any more.

Here in Barcelona, most of the newspapers only talk about the recent terrorist attack, though after a few days they’re slowly giving pages back to standard news, especially now that all the related terrorists have been caught (or killed). I realised, though, that most people abroad, who I’ve talked to online these past few days, don’t know the details of what happened, and many still believe the rumours that circulated the moments right after the attack. Youtube Spain now has a black ribbon at the top of the page in commemoration of the BCN attack… but you can only see this ribbon if you have your location marked as Spain. No other countries have it, not even Youtube France, our neighbours who have shown to share the mourning in the real world and also had many injured of their own in Barcelona at the time.

At the same time, people in the US are so focused on Charlottesville these days, when in Spain I only read half a page about it the day after it happened, didn’t really understand much what it was about, and pointedly forgot about it after passing the page. I only found out what happened when a youtuber I’m subscribed to talked about it. But it’s true that we have a daily page reserved for “what Trump said this time”. The Manchester and Paris attacks received coverage but, even though I’m living in Europe too, other attacks were simply mentioned in passing.

Every country, though we may still have eyes looking out, lives in their own bubble. We like to pride ourselves that we live in an age when we can access information about almost anything we want to know, with the internet and phones and connections. But when on the internet, we usually only click on what interests us. I would’ve never thought to look up Nigeria because I don’t even think about something so far away from me, but if they put it in front of me in the paper, then I’ll know. We say the world is small, talk to people from across the planet and yet we don’t share the same news. We don’t talk about the same things, we don’t know the same things, sometimes we don’t even care about the same things because we’ve never heard about the topic before.

How can people come to Spain with the hopes of seeing bullfighting, and then leave upset because “they didn’t know it was so cruel”? Why don’t we even mention Duterte in the Philippines, when what he’s doing is so relevant on a national scale, why do people not know about Myanmar’s military rule? If given a map, not many would be able to say where every country is.

I can understand that if we had to talk about every country, every day, the newspapers would be a very thick stack of papers and generally illegible because of too much information. However, if maybe half the pages were dedicated to international news (out of the newspaper I read, that would be 26 pages), to things that happen in other countries, I could consider myself a much more worldly person.

The next step to being connected, to moving forward as a society, is to know the world we live in and not just what’s close to home. People have power if they have knowledge, and so many things could be solved if we were aware of the problem, even if it is far away. If we want to work together properly, as a world and not just as countries, we should at least all be on the same page.

Attacking North Korea

Many people are worried about Kim Jong Un attacking the US, but honestly, if someone attacks first I’m leaning towards thinking it’ll be Trump. Kim Jong Un has been giving threats for years, if he was actually planning to do anything then he likely would’ve done it already. Announcing that you’re going to attack someone before attacking seems like a highly unpractical thing to do.

We can say what we want about Kim Jong Un, but he isn’t entirely stupid; he knows that there’s a world out there and many countries against him, plus China has said that if he attacks first they wouldn’t be on his side. I think he is mostly waiting for an excuse to attack.

Trump is giving Kim Jong Un those excuses, making threats may eventually succeed in Kim Jong Un getting nervous or angry or running out of patience or feeling he needs to prove himself, Trump is just making things so much worse. The US shouldn’t be creating waves because it isn’t them who will be on the end of the sword (they are far away for a proper war to be carried out between the two), NK will attack SK, maybe Japan or Guam or somewhere else nearby. Trump is making things worse when he isn’t even going to be the one receiving the consequences, and that’s not really fair.

On the other side, in the year 2017 I think it’s completely shameful to even be thinking about bombing a capital full of innocent people. The people who live in NK are brainwashed, but not evil, they are not their dictator. Those in Pyongyang especially have been becoming more and more aware that there are lies going around, to the point that there are over 30,000 NK defectors living in SK right now, and that’s just the amount of people who have managed to escape NK successfully, managed to not get caught in China and sent back and finally managed to arrive to SK safely. It’s only a small fraction of those who have tried, plus there are defectors living in other countries too.

I think, in a way, we need to help the people in Pyongyang get out of the situation they’re in. Giving them knowledge about the world, giving them an education about countries, different people and customs, history told correctly. Let them meet people from around the world to show that the lies they’ve heard their entire lives are wrong. Right now they are being used as puppets, but if we want to be any better than Kim Jong Un, we have to treat them as people.

I think the best way to tear down Kim Jong Un’s dictatorship is from inside. I don’t mean sending secret soldiers to attack headquarters or anything, I mean getting the people of Pyongyang to uprise against their leader. Outside TV series and movies are already being watched secretly by many regular people in Pyongyang; let’s make it more. Let’s give them series, movies, books, answers and show them that the outside world is different to what they were told. Tell them that people have escaped and show them how they live now. Tell them that they can be someone and do something, give them a way to communicate with each other around the government and a way to know that others are thinking what they’re thinking too.

Perhaps it’s a highly idealistic thought, but maybe not impossible since it’s already started to happen. North Korea is a big country, but the world around it is bigger. I don’t want to hurt NK, I don’t want to be seen as someone who has the power and armies and weapons needed to take them down, I don’t want another country to defeat and take control of NK because that will lead to rapes and murders and tortures and yet another hierarchy between the people of NK and those with more power. I don’t see the people of NK as our enemy. Kim Jong Un and other government officials need to be taken down, but I want the people of the country to know that they’ve been lied to, I want them to know the truths, to be able to talk without getting killed and to be able to rejoin the families separated from SK.

We don’t only have power of weapons, we have the power of instant communication anywhere on earth, we have money and tools and people who can help, we have airplanes and medicines and access to knowledge, a community of people all over the planet. I want them to say, maybe 100, 200, 300 years in the future, that we were the the ones who finally choose peace over war for once and drastically helped the lives of millions of people.


The Asian Boss youtube channel often interviews North Korean defectors, it’s interesting to hear things from their point of view and their life in the country rather than relying on stereotypes or the images we have of NK.