(By Ghim Boseong [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons)

While sitting in a café, enjoying a cappuccino and a sandwich of which I had been assured it was typically Catalan, my eyes drifted to an open newspaper on the counter. The El Pais newspaper, opened to the economy section, showed a large picture of the pension protests in Barcelona. The pension protests encapsulating Spain are interesting in their own right, but what caught my eye in this particular photograph of the pension protests in Barcelona, were the yellow ribbons prominently pinned on almost all of the protestors portrayed in the picture. This surprised me slightly, since I had come to associate the yellow ribbon with the protests dedicated to the Catalonian political prisoners, and not the pension strike. When I asked the bartender, who was happily singing along to Out of Limits by the Challengers, about it, he noted that the yellow ribbon did in fact reference the political prisoners, but that it was neither exclusive to the prisoners nor the Catalan independence cause.

This remark pointing to the flexibility of symbols and the intersection of causes reminded me of Rothberg’s Multidirectional Memory. Rothberg’s conception of multidirectional memories offers an alternative and a critique on and of the perspective that views memories as exclusionary and competitive, and assumes there is only a limited space in public discourse for which different memories compete. Rothberg instead points to the multidirectional nature of memories showing how expressions of Holocaust memories for instance, can also enable, instead of restrict, the expression of memories related to slavery. While Rothberg, in my opinion unnecessarily and problematically, bases his argument on a psychoanalytic reasoning and a re-reading of Freud’s screen memory, I still agree with his stance that memories can be multidirectional, or perhaps more precisely stated, can be used and act in multidirectional ways. I mention used and act here to stress both their nature, but also to highlight the role of actors in using memories in multidirectional ways. In my opinion Rothberg’s emphasis on psychoanalysis in his argument on the multidirectionality of memories marginalizes this use of memories, and obscures the actors involved.

To return to the café, the newspaper, the sweet tunes of the Challengers, my cappuccino, the typical Catalan sandwich, and the yellow ribbon, I was struck by the high visibility of the yellow ribbon at a protest, which at first glance seemed disconnected from it. From people wearing the yellow ribbon, I have further heard multiple and differing reasons for their choice to wear it, be it as support for the political prisoners, support for Catalan independence, or simply as a symbol of pride of being Catalan. Not only does the symbol come back in a multitude of settings, the meanings associated with it are also quite divers.I further think that such visible symbols should be understood within their particular context, where visibility of the Catalan identity was outlawed during the Franco dictatorship, Catalan street signs, monuments, and other geographical markers were taken down, and the Catalan language was penalized, the mere visibility of such symbols now, therefore in itself can already be quite important to those wearing them.

This perhaps to an extent explains why such symbols are also visibly present in protests such as the pension march in Barcelona. Symbols of Catalan identity, quite logically then, also make their appearance at protests that are less inherently connected to Catalan causes. Important to stress however is that the pension protest, while present in Spain as a whole, might also have some regional economic flavors, considering that the high taxes with low return has been a consistent critique of Spain in the Catalan region. Such examples offer an interesting opening to research on the multidirectionality of memories, protests, and symbols in regional contexts. While multidirectionality, as Rothberg first proposed it, seems to function on a transnational level, it is necessary to also understand its use and actions from regional and national perspectives. While the symbol of the (yellow) ribbon, internationally also certainly has its meanings and functions, looking at how memories, symbols, and protests act in multidirectional ways in regional contexts, while simultaniously interacting with national and international phenomenons, might help increase our understanding of multidirectionality itself.

As always
keep it wavey in the free world
and have a blessed day

Michael Rothberg – Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization. Introduction.