We spent from 5.30am on Sunday morning at the local library, or biblioteca, less than 100m from my home in Sant Cugat del Vallès, a town of 87,000 just over the hill from Barcelona. My partner and her father are from the French part of Catalonia, or Catalunya Nord, as it’s known. None of us could vote in the independence referendum, but after the authoritarian behaviour of the Spanish authorities in recent weeks, we wanted to help protect the voting centres.
“We just want to vote”
This is the message, in English, that many Catalans have been sending out to the rest of Europe, in the run up to this Sunday’s planned independence referendum.
I paused at a crossroads. An image of a postcard flashed into my head. A postcard I received from my friend Donal, years and years ago. A black and white image showing two hands barely meeting across a map, with three commandments in red strips overlaid: Admit Nothing. Blame Everyone. Be Bitter.
As I write this, I’m sitting in a café in Brussels (where hundreds of refugees are camped in parks, understandably turning down government dormitory accommodation). I’m Irish. I live here, for now. I migrated here, but I’m not a refugee. But look at the history of the Irish diaspora, or that of your own country. Look at how many people in your family or friends are descended from or connected someone who was displaced by war or crushing economic pressures, and think, did any of these people – the Syrians stranded on the beaches of Kos, or arriving in Munich ever dream they would become refugees?
Last week, the Greenpeace team on board the Esperanza told the story of the Chinese zombie ships of West Africa- this week we went back, and interviewed the men on board.
We’re in the big African Queen inflatable, cruising alongside an anchored trawler. It’s more rust than metal – the ship is rotting away. The foredeck is covered in broken machinery. The fish deck is littered with frayed cables, and the mast lies horizontally, hanging over the starboard side. A large rusty Chinese character hangs on railings above the bridge, facing forward. It reads ‘happiness’.