October 27, 2017 / 1:59 PM / a year ago

Catalonia or Neverland? Humour relieves tension in Spain

MADRID (Reuters) - Shortly after the Catalan government defied Madrid and held a referendum on independence, Jaume Vives held his own “vote” on whether to separate his central Barcelona balcony from “this Catalonia of madmen”.

A Catalan separatist flag is held up as fireworks go off in Sant Jaume Square in front of the Catalan regional government headquarters during celebratrions after the Catalan regional parliament declared independence from Spain in Barcelona, Spain, October 27, 2017. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

Using a megaphone, the 25-year-old journalist declared the nine votes cast by his assembled friends and family were really 2.4 million - a slightly inaccurate reference to the 2.3 million who voted for a break with Spain.

Then he suspended the decision — just as Catalan president Carles Puigdemont had done with his Oct. 10 decision to pursue independence in the Catalan parliament.

A video of the stunt has been watched 890,000 times on YouTube as people on both sides of the independence divide turn to satire to break the tension of a real-life drama that is both dividing and maddening the nation.

The drama’s two main actors - Puigdemont and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy - are the butt of most jibes.

The anti-independence camp has aimed its jokes at Puigdemont and what they see as his reluctance to be decisive and his flip-flop statements on the independence question.

In recent weeks, he has declared independence then suspended his declaration, accepted an invitation to address the Senate then declined it, and called for an independence vote in Catalan parliament — and then deferred it.

One bar in Barcelona recently put up a sign that declared free beer for all - but then, tongue-in-cheek, said the measure was immediately suspended pending talks with the beer company.


One mock TV game show presented a puzzled Puigdemont considering his answer to the final question of an episode of ‘Who wants to be a millionaire?’

“What is Catalonia right now?,” the question read on the screen, with the four possible answers listed as: A - a region ? B - Neverland ? C - a Republic ?, or D - a circus ?

On the other side, satirists have homed in on Prime Minister Rajoy and his insistence that Puigdemont renounce independence as a condition of negotiations.

In one online parody, Rajoy is shown with U.S. President Donald Trump’s hair and a caption saying: “I will build a wall, - and Catalonia will pay for it.”

At a recent pro-independence demonstration in Barcelona he appeared on a poster kissing Spanish dictator Francisco Franco - historically a hate figure in Catalonia - on the lips amid a burst of pink heart shapes.

Another, shared hundreds of thousands of times on Whatsapp, shows Rajoy embracing Puigdemont and saying, “He stays”, in a parody of a famous tweet from FC Barcelona defender Gerard Pique announcing that Brazilian star Neymar would not leave the club.

Neymar signed for Paris Saint Germain days later.

The satire highlights the fatigue that both sides feel.

Barcelona has buzzed for the past two months with repeated, large-scale protests, mostly for independence but also including one rally of more than 300,000 against secession.

Humour has become a means of escape from the seemingly endless tension.

From his balcony in the upmarket residential neighbourhood of Sarria-Sant Gervasi, Vives described his lone anti-independence as a “Smiling Counter-Revolution”.

“We are reducing to absurdity the absurd reality we are living, and the lies they tell us,” Vives said. “Doing this reduces the tension in the atmosphere. Jokes don’t feed hatred.”

Editing by Julien Toyer, Mark Bendeich and Richard Balmforth

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