Reflections on the Exaggeration of Tragedy

By: Dagny Pawlak

“Hitler Rajoy” are the words spray-painted on the building in front of mine.

I scratch my head and wonder if the artist responsible for this statement has ever witnessed, experienced, or even merely studied the atrocities of the suffocating human oppression and systematic execution unleashed by the man who’s name they now superposed upon that of the current Spanish head of state’s. I suspect not.

I continue my walk and end-up in an entirely new neighborhood. Here I find another incendiary scribble – this time on a mailbox – with the words “Franco is back” written in black, with a clever little addition underneath it proclaiming: “he never left.”

I pause and ask myself – ‘Could it have been the same person, who, brandishing his or her paint can in a fury of separatist rage, decided to spread his or her fascist comparisons across the urban canvass of more than one neighborhood?’ Not likely.

Later that day, I begin my walk back home which requires that I cross Plaça Sant Jaume. I cannot squeeze through the hoards of flag-donning protesters waving signs that read, among others: “Catalonia wants peace and freedom from Oppression” or “Kill the Ghost of Franco.”

Photo credit: byronv2 on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC

My eyes widen in fear and I wonder: “Ghost of Franco?! Where does this metaphorical ghost dwell and why is it that I have never felt its presence? Could it be that it only haunts those of purely Catalan descent?” My questions are left unanswered by the simplistic chants of the secessionist sympathizers so I continue my walk home, all the while wondering about the horrors likened to Hitler’s Nazism and Franco’s Fascism that these Catalan protesters must be enduring. I quicken my pace lest I run into this ghost.

I got home and turned on the news. A report from Burma regarding the persecution of Rohingya muslims caught my attention. I raised the volume.

A stateless minority subjected to what the UN has described as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” was being shown to be forced out of their homes in Myanmar carrying the very literal weight of their children, siblings and elderly on their backs, not to mention the weight of fear, uncertainty and desperation. I began to sift through articles to find out why these people were the target of such brutal governmental oppression. The answer, it turns out, seems to lie in Burma’s system of stratified hierarchy regarding citizenship rights.

In addition to Burma’s full citizenship status, the country has several less-than-full categories of citizenship as well. “Citizens” in Burma, are said to be citizens on condition of belonging to one of the national races or on condition that their ancestors settled in the country before 1823, the beginning of British occupation of the Arakan State. Those who occupy the very lowest rung of the citizenship ladder have no citizenship rights at all. They cannot hold public office, move freely about the country or enroll in higher education. People placed in this category are referred to as “Resident Foreigners”. Under the current Burmese system, the Rohingya people belong to this category.

Understanding that the current Burmese citizenship laws render them stateless, the Rohingya people have been demanding full citizenship and fighting for equal rights since the 1980s- Demands that have been met with a vicious response from the state, culminating in the massive human displacement the world is now witnessing.

The clock struck 22:00 here in Barcelona and the clinking of pots and pans began to fill the night air in another manifestation of Catalonian protest. I got up to close my window, and raised the volume of my television once more.

This time, the story being reported concerned The Greater Jerusalem bill and the legalization of Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem. The bill would expand the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem to include four major illegal settlements and many smaller ones under the municipal jurisdiction of Jerusalem. The reporter explained that the annexation of East Jerusalem is recognized as unlawful by Palestinians, and under the two-state framework, East Jerusalem would constitute the capital of a Palestinian State. Today there are over 200,000 Israeli settlers living in East Jerusalem, with demolitions of Palestinian homes and appropriation of Palestinian land being a daily occurrence.

As I listened to the news against the noise outside my window, I was moved by the commentary of a few Palestinian residents, still hopeful that one day they will achieve Arafat’s “dream… for freedom, sovereignty and independence on our Palestinian national soil.

Tears welled-up in my eyes as I wondered once more about how it would feel to live in a country occupied by external forces, with restricted citizenship rights and restricted freedom of movement or to be separated from your family and loved ones by lines arbitrarily drawn “in the sand[1]”.

I woke up the following morning and was relieved to find that the graffiti on the building in front of mine had been painted over.



[1] “A line in the Sand: Britain, France and the struggle that shaped the Middle East” by James Barr


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