Thousands of people marched through the streets of downtown Barcelona on Saturday shouting the slogan “Casa nostra, casa vostra” (Our home, your home).
Barcelona had prepared its plan for welcoming Syrian and Iraqi refugees back in September 2015. It put its municipal services on standby and organized an army of volunteers, whose generosity inspired residents in Madrid and Valencia to open their own cities to refugees. In the meantime, much of the rest of Europe was busy building walls, fencing itself in, warding inflows off, hardening its laws and ignoring not just the plight of the refugees themselves, but also the difficulties faced by Greece and Italy, Lesvos and Lampedusa.
This amazing show of solidarity – not rhetorical but actual and tangible – from the Catalans convinced the Spanish government to raise its commitment for taking in refugees trapped in Greece and Italy from the 2,749 it had initially agreed to up to 17,680.
But numbers often suffer the same fate as words, dying out without leaving a single political or moral trace. Up until February 2016, just 18 refugees had been relocated to Spain, a number that makes sense when you consider that of the 160,000 relocations agreed on by the countries of the European Union, just 600 had actually taken place by that time. This failure to live up to commitments prompted Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau at this precise time last year to lash out against the Spanish government and the strategy centers in Brussels, which seem happy to confine their action to the deal made between the European Union and Turkey, even though this has been condemned by every respected humanitarian organization.
Colau’s protests fell on deaf ears, so on August 1, 2016, authorities in Barcelona placed a “counter of shame” on the city’s most popular beach, recording daily how many people are lost at sea in their effort to escape war or extreme poverty.
We don’t know whether the counter triggered any feelings of guilt, but it certainly failed to awaken any sense of responsibility. When it was inaugurated, the number of victims stood at 3,034. By the end of the year, and according to official data from Europe, ever the passive observer, this surpassed 5,000. And as far as relocations to Spain go, these barely came to more than 1,000 last year.
This, in general terms, is the background of that very encouraging rally we saw in Barcelona on Saturday. Whether the people who took to the streets were motived by their feelings or by their ideological beliefs is a question that only means something to those who think ideology is a fixation and feelings a sign of immaturity.