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No man’s land

Like many others, I find myself in a silent place where there is no chanting and no slogans, a place where only white flags wave in the wind

Isabel Coixet EL PAIS
Juan Carlos Cardenas

My face is red as I write this. Not out of embarrassment, but out of rage. Two individuals with esteladas [Catalan secessionist flags] wrapped around their necks started screaming at me outside my door this morning, calling me a “fascist” and yelling: “You should be ashamed!”

I had gone down to walk the dog and drop off some plastic containers for recycling, and because it was early and I was still half-asleep as I hadn’t slept a wink the night before, at first I didn’t even realize they were addressing me, so I went on my way.

I never thought that speaking one’s mind respectfully and honestly would come at such a high price

They continued to yell, so I turned around and calmly – even now, two hours later, I am still amazed at how calm I remained – said: “Aren’t you ashamed to talk to me this way if you don’t even know me?” They kept right on screaming. The dog was pulling on the leash. I walked away.

I dropped off the recycling. I kept walking, still in shock. Slowly, a dull, unhealthy feeling of rage washed over me. For months now, even years if you count the day when I signed the Foro Babel Manifesto (which demanded true bilingualism in Catalonia), both I and all other individuals who do not follow the single-track thinking of the pro-independence camp have been constant targets of insults for expressing our disagreement. But these last few months, the level of hatred aimed at us has reached new heights.

Until now, this harassment was limited to online lynching. I dealt with this by not having a Facebook or Twitter account (the latter was hacked, as was my WhatsApp profile, which was then used to send out a message that I did not write). Although there is always someone on hand to inform you about the tide of trash being piled on you in the social media. But this is the third time that they have yelled “fascist” at me so far this week (and the first time that I have answered back). And I find that something inside me is breaking.

These last few months, the level of hatred aimed at us is reaching new heights

I see now, with horrifying clarity, that no matter what happens next, there is no room here for me or for anybody who dares to think independently, even though this is my place of birth. Today it is insults against me, yesterday it was insults against members of my family; the day before it was insults against friends of mine whose other friends openly criticize the fact that the former are still friends with me. And tomorrow, it will be something worse.

It makes no difference whether you unequivocally condemn police brutality, or whether you demand Rajoy’s resignation (in my case, I have been asking for that since long before any of this happened).

Because if, when you condemn the Spanish government’s actions, you don’t also condone the Catalan government’s actions, you immediately become an enemy, a fascist, a fascistoid, a Franco follower, the scum of the Earth. And you think about the fear that has already covered, like spores, the skin of all those people who keep quiet but who secretly come to tell you that they’re on your side – that they are grateful for what you are doing, and then they tell you that they don’t even talk about the situation inside their own homes, for fear that their children will hear them and get into trouble at school.

These are not mere anecdotes. This is the reality on the ground for those of us who live here. This is the new, shocking fracture of a society that used to live in peace and without fear, with logical differences of opinion and different values and different criteria, but always on a foundation of respect.

I see now, with horrifying clarity, that no matter what happens next, there is no room here for me or for anybody who dares to think independently

While I think about all this, I am starting to calm down. After all, these are minor issues compared to places in the world where there are men and women suffering all kinds of indignities, misfortunes and horrible humiliations. Mine is a First World problem. As I have often done in the past, I am trying to minimize what is happening to me in order to avoid feeding the monster of hate that would make me indistinguishable from those who now insult me.

I never thought that speaking one’s mind respectfully and honestly would come at such a high price. And yet I would not for the world trade this dry, silent no-man’s land in which I find myself, which I know that many people find themselves in – a place without any chanting or screaming or slogans, where the air only blows against white flags that whisper the word “Help” into the wind, in the vain hope that someone, somewhere, will listen before it is too late.

Isabel Coixet is an internationally renowned, Barcelona-born movie director.

English version by Susana Urra.

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