This week, the Catalan Delegation in London was forced to remove the yellow ribbon from its office and façade by order of the Spanish authorities. The officials in 17 Fleet Street took it down after Spanish Unionist party ‘Ciutadans’ reported the presence of a yellow ribbon to Spain’s electoral authority, who earlier this week ordered Catalan President, Quim Torra, to remove all these symbols from public offices and façades in Catalonia.
The body considered them ‘partisan symbols’ and therefore not to be allowed in the run-up to the 28th of April general election in Spain. Although the elections are not in British territory, the prohibition has crossed Spain’s frontiers and arrived to London as well.
But what is the origin of the yellow ribbon? Is it really a partisan symbol? This iconic badge is used for various purposes and may be worn on a person, placed on a vehicle, or tied around a tree. The grounds of this iconic ribbon come from a far. In the 19th-century some women allegedly wore a yellow ribbon in their hair to signify their devotion to a husband or sweetheart serving in the U.S. Cavalry and away from home.
The symbol of a yellow ribbon became widely known in civilian life in the 1970s as a reminder that an absent loved one, either in the military or in jail, would be welcomed home on their return. In the same vein, the song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” by Tony Orlando and Dawn described the ribbon as a symbol of love and home belonging.
In 2017, the use of yellow ribbons in Catalonia started to spread. It was a symbolic way of denouncing the repression against pro-independence leaders who were imprisoned or forced to exile for allowing the referendum on the 1st of October. After the first two leaders were detained, social activist Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart, people started showing their solidarity wearing them as badges, tying them on trees, painting them on banners or making them of fabric or by putting candles together. This symbol of remembrance and love was used to denounce a situation which is seen as disproportionate and against the fundamental rights and freedoms by many citizens, not only in Catalonia but worldwide.
From then one, some Spanish nationalist and unionist groups and parties, such as ‘Ciutadans’ or ‘Partido Popular’, have made of prosecuting and removing yellow ribbons one of their main crusades. In fact, there have been some incidents reported by individuals wearing these ribbons who have felt intimidated or even attacked for it.
The last episode of this politics of censorship has arrived from Spain’s electoral authority. 48 hours after its requirement to remove the yellow ribbons from public headquarters, Catalan Government removed them. However, it didn’t avoid the criminal lawsuit against the president for disobedience launched by the public prosecutor. Currently, the only banner hanging from the government headquarters’ façade reads: “Freedom of opinion and expression. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” So far, it hasn’t been challenged.