Tensions rise in Catalonia over yellow ribbon symbols

Number of incidents between supporters and detractors of independence increases, with one woman in Barcelona left with a broken nose after an alleged assault

Yellow ribbons adorn a building in Barcelona.
Yellow ribbons adorn a building in Barcelona.Alejandro García (EFE)

Tensions are rising in Catalonia over the public display of yellow ribbons in support of jailed pro-independence leaders, with one woman allegedly attacked on Saturday for removing the symbol from a park entrance in Barcelona.

According to the woman’s husband, who is a member of the center-right party Ciudadanos which is against the independence movement, the couple were walking with their three children when they stopped to pick up some of the yellow ribbons that had fallen in front of the entrance to the Ciudadela Park in Barcelona. A man, accompanied by a woman in a wheelchair, approached the family and yelled at them for taking down the yellow ribbons, the husband told online newspaper Las Voces del Pueblo.

According to his version, when his wife, who was born in Russia, tried to explain that she wasn’t the one who threw the ribbons on the ground, the man yelled at her: “Shut up, foreign piece of shit.” After more angry words were exchanged, the man punched the woman in her face, leaving her with a broken nose and black eye, says the husband. The man fled with the woman in the wheelchair, who also reprimanded him for his actions, while the wife was taken to hospital. The Catalan regional police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, have identified the man but no one has yet been arrested.

This is just the latest incident in a long line of altercations over the presence of yellow ribbons in public spaces. Ribbons of varying sizes have been appearing all over the northeastern Spanish region for months now, placed by supporters of independence for Catalonia from Spain. Those in favor of the ongoing unity of the country, however, have been removing them – in some cases in an organized and systematic manner.

The problem is that there are people who use violence to take down the yellow ribbons

Marcel Mauri, president of Òmnium Cultural

The symbols represent support of the former heads of pro-independence associations Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart, and politicians such as former Catalan Republican Left (ERC) leader, Oriol Junqueras, who, along with several other key figures from the previous regional government, have been in pre-trial custody since November for their role in the passing of last year’s unilateral declaration of independence in the Catalan regional parliament.

The dispute over the symbol has intensified this summer with Ciudadanos and other organizations launching a series of actions to encourage people to remove pro-independence symbols from public spaces.

This August a small plane has been flying over the beaches of Catalonia with the message: “The beaches are for everyone. Take down the yellow ribbons” – a reference to the violent scuffle in Canet de Mar beach over yellow crosses posted in support of the jailed pro-independence leaders.

Between July and August, there have been more than 20 altercations between separatists and those who favor unity and want the pro-independence symbols gone, in particular the yellow ribbons. Journalist Arcadi Espada was recently reported for defacing a yellow ribbon placed at the L'Ametlla de Mar rotonda in Tarragona. On August 16, a man in Arenys de Mar in Barcelona was attacked with a knife and punched in the face for taking down yellow ribbons.

A day later, the Mossos d’Esquadra identified a group of 14 people with tools to remove the symbol from three towns in Tarragona. And on July 22, a man was filmed running over a display of yellow crosses in his car in Vic, Barcelona.

Marcel Mauri, the president of the pro-independence association Òmnium Cultural, told Catalonia Radio that “in the last months” the police had recorded 200 incidents between people wanting to remove the yellow ribbons and locals who try to stop them. “The problem is that there are people who use violence to take down the yellow ribbons. Some do this to feed the story of social confrontation,” he said.

Josep Costa, the deputy premier of the Catalan regional parliament said “there is no controversy because of the yellow ribbons,” arguing it is rather “a street violence problem by extreme right groups who want political and media coverage for the pro-unity side.”

While two neo-Nazis were identified in a video taking down yellow ribbons and yelling fascist slogans, most of the cases have been by men and women from a wide range of ages. Ciudadanos for instance has organized teams to remove yellow ribbons from municipalities like Sant Cugat, Figueres and El Masnou.

On Monday, the Spanish attorney general stated that she did not consider it a criminal offense to put up or remove yellow ribbons.

Ciudadanos calls protest

Ciudadanos has called for a protest on Wednesday to support the woman who was attacked while taking down yellow ribbons from the entrance to the Ciudadela Park in Barcelona. Inés Arrimadas, Ciudadanos leader in Catalonia, said the attack "shows what we have been criticizing, the serious social divide in Catalonia, where those who do not think like the separatist regional government cannot live in harmony."

Arrimadas wants the "violent aggression of this woman in front of her little children" to be investigated as a hate crime. The protest will take place at 7pm at the Ciudadela Park where the incident occurred.

The Ciudadanos regional leader has also called for the Catalan Interior Minister Mique Buch to explain "which exclusionary political symbols are allowed in public spaces."

"The separatist Catalan government has allowed exclusionary symbols in spaces that are for all Catalan and is allowing people who are against these symbols to be singled out and insulted," she added.

English version by Melissa Kitson.


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