A.LLIMÓS / R. REQUENA
The truce between Barcelona FC and UEFA in the "estelades (1)" case did not stop thousands of Barça supporters from stating their case. The Camp Nou has spoken and has sent a clear message. Thousands of separatist flags dotted the stands, demanding freedom of speech and protesting the two penalties imposed on Barça by UEFA, following the Berlin Champions League final and the September match against Bayer Leverkusen, when many Barça fans displayed their “estelada” in the stadium.
As soon as the UEFA Champions League anthem began playing, a vast majority of Barça fans booed and raised their “estelada” all over the stands in an unprecedented sight that far exceeded any prior demonstration in Camp Nou. Additionally, the club had a huge banner unfurled bearing the word “respect” in Catalan. As customary in the last few years, the crowd shouted “independence! independence” exactly 17 minutes and 14 seconds into the match (2).
All this happened under the watchful eye of UEFA’s representative, Karl-Erik Nilsson (from Sweden) and the official in charge of security, Juha Karjalainen, who took photos of what was going on from his seat in the main stand, very near Barcelona FC chairman Josep Maria Bartomeu and Catalan president Artur Mas. Even though no penalty will be issued, the UEFA official made a note of what happened in Camp Nou. During halftime and for about five minutes, Bartomeu and Barça’s director of professional sports Albert Soler could be seen talking to UEFA’s head of communication, Pedro Pinto. Fans and cameras saw them engaged in conversation at the very top of the main stand.
The ANC, Òmnium Cultural, the Platform for Catalan National Teams and Drets (3) handed out 30,000 “estelades” outside the ground before the game began. 300 volunteers gave one away to anybody who asked. One volunteer stated that they had “run out of them within the hour; many fans had brought their own “estelada” from home and foreign visitors who took one were well aware of what it means”.
The groups that handed out the 30,000 flags certainly managed to colour the stands with a special hue. Still, many of those who took one did so without truly understanding the meaning of the flag which they had been given and they clutched enthusiastically. There is still a lot of work to be done in this area. The first group of three young South Koreans were totally unaware of the meaning of the flag they wore draped over their shoulders. Equally uninformed was another Korean group who wondered about the yellow flag with four red stripes --”blood”, they ventured-- and a star at one end. An Austrian family that was trying to find its way into the stadium, a large party of Colombians taking pictures, some hurrying Belgians, a small group of girls from Dominica and a young man from Hong Kong were all blissfully ignorant, too.
Of course, the French --from Nantes or Paris-- knew what was going on, as did Nick, a Dutchman from Rotterdam. Damian, a Pole who spoke fluent Spanish, stated his support for Catalonia’s claim: “I’ve been a Barça supporter since I was a young boy. We support the club and the Catalan people on this matter. UEFA have got in the way, hence the flags”.
Equally knowledgeable was Samuel, a Mexican who had flown to Barcelona just to watch the game and had travelled to Camp Nou to get himself an “estelada”. Needless to say, foreigners who have been living in Catalonia for some time are well aware of what is going on. Ansu moved here from Gambia ten years ago and he supports “independence” because the Catalan people “have become my people”.
(1) N.T. An “estelada” is a Catalan flag with a five-pointed star within a triangle which, for the last 100 years, has been flown by Catalans who support independence from Spain.
(2) N.T. Barcelona city fell to Spanish and French troop on September 11, 1714 after a bloody siege, in what effectively meant the end of Catalan sovereignty. Barça fans have a habit of shouting for independence when the clock in the stadium strikes 17:14 N.T. All four are non-partisan, grassroots pro-independence groups.
(3) N.T. All four are non-partisan, grassroots pro-independence Catalan groups.