ANTIRACISM: Between ‘the real’ and ‘Barcelona’

In the middle of October this year I was lucky enough to visit Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, a region of Spain.  The dual heritage Russian-Catalonian family who had invited me organised me a few days of real vacation.  I won’t start to tantalise you, dear readers, with the beauty of this region:  the coast of the warm Mediterranean Sea, the work of Gaudi, the architect of genius… Really, Barcelona is an amazing city, and the people there are splendid.  And whoever has the good fortune to visit the city will see it with his own eyes and experience it in his own heart.  We can only hope.  Miracles are possible even in our lifetime.

            However, in this short article, I want to share with you a few other impressions – impressions from certain friendly debates in the late evenings with my new friend Julio.  There are many beautiful Spanish names: Eusébio (which sounds almost like our ‘Seva’), Eugenio (like our ‘Zhenya’) and so on.  So, Julio is a real Catalonian in origin and an almost typical Catalonian in lifestyle.  His parents are people who love and honour Catalonians, and above all, Catalonian traditions.  He was brought up in an atmosphere of tender parental love but severe demands: they ingrained in him the conscientiousness and thrift which are characteristic of all Catalonians and reach, in Julian’s words, the point of stinginess.  Julio’s father is honest, and through his own labour earned a modest living which provided him with a dignified old age.  Julio himself is an engineer working in the transport department.

            Yet here is something untypical.   Julio is married to Masha, a Russian woman who, it is true, looks very much like a young Spanish woman.  Masha has a perfect command of Spanish.  Julio himself takes Spanish lessons from a professional tutor, is friends with a real Orthodox parson and, being a Catholic, often attends Orthodox Church.  Because of just this untypical quality of his, I suggested to Julio that we devote one of our evening discussions to the problems of discrimination – in Catalonia in general, and in Barcelona in particular. 

It is true that, at first glance, everything is well in this town: Europeans, Africans, Arabs, and the most authentic Latin-American Indians who look very like our own Buryats co-exist peacefully, and at first glance, everyone is happy.  How is this possible?  It turned out that my obliging ‘expert’ is also very interested in this subject.  Therefore, having given the wise Oriental-sounding answer, ‘it is both so, and not so’, Julio started to explain what he meant. 

He started with football.  It turns out that football in Catalonia (and everywhere, for that matter) is connected with politics.  It was extremely significant to Catalonians that Barcelona recently won back the title of best football team in Spain, pushing Real Madrid into second place.  From the point of view of a certain number of Catalonians who want Catalonia to become a separate state, the victory of Barcelona has a political meaning.  Many Catalonians observe the tradition of looking down on the other regions of Spain and considering that Barcelona feeds everyone and that all other regions are paying guests.  Given this, in Julio’s opinion, the attitude of a native Catalonian towards an emigrant from, for instance, Andalucia, is less than fraternal.  For example, the majority of Andalucians, who settled in Barcelona many years ago, were poor, mainly fishermen – representatives of a lowly profession that is dying out today.  Catalonians have a condescending, somewhat disdainful attitude towards them.

            ‘If this is so, Julio, then in your opinion, how do Catalonians relate to national minorities?  What you described to me has tones of nationalism,’ I asked.

            Julio agreed that sometimes nationalism was sensed in the air in Barcelona.  Most of all, it is evident in the graffiti by young Barcelona radicals on the sides of old derelict houses.  Here I recalled how one of a good acquaintance from Paris was amazed to see a young person on a Barcelona beach with a gigantic fascist swastika tattooed on their back.  They were calmly sunbathing and felt completely comfortable.

            So, to continue, Julio told me that Catalonians tolerate national minorities – tolerate, but nothing more.

            ‘OK,’ I said, ‘but what do people in Barcelona associate with emigrants from Africa and Latin America?’

            ‘The drug industry.’

            ‘And Roma?’

            ‘Metal – selling and reselling.’



            ‘And out of them, who do you trust the least?’


            ‘I don’t grasp the logic: not drug dealers, not terrorists, but people looking for profit in an inoffensive way, collecting and re-selling metal.  Why are they trusted the least for this?’

Julio answered that he himself did not understand this.  It was incomprehensible, but a fact.  This perfectly sums up the main point of our discussion. 

On the last day, at Julio and Masha’s suggestion, we strolled through the once flourishing and lively Romani region of Barcelona.  Now not even the historical name of this place has been preserved.  And almost no Roma are left here.  We met no more than four men – fine people, but in my opinion, in no way different from Spaniards.  Julio responded to my surprise with the following explanation.  Roma do not wish to preserve their national differences and have already, for several centuries, made every effort to resemble Catalonians.  And unfortunately, in this they have completely succeeded.  So if I visited Andalucia, I would be surprised at the real Roma there.  Indeed, Catalonian Roma do not feel any special ‘brotherhood’ with other Spanish Roma. 

            There it is.  Yet this region is very beautiful.  It is such a pity that one cannot turn back time and see how things were in this Roma region at one time.  This can only be imagined. 

            ‘Well,’ Julio said to me in parting, ‘Let’s hope for better.  I am an optimist.  Indeed, if we recall history, a few decades ago all Spain was a fascist state with the tyrant Franco in power.  As they say, the time has not yet come.’

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