Despatches from Catalonia

Last week I posted a guest post from Barcelona in the lead up to the Catalan Referendum.   Today I’m posting the following dispatch from the frontlines of the referendum struggle from a very different perspective, summing up the tumultuous events that have shaken Catalonia in the last few week, by my great friend and indefatigable independentista Andreu Jené:

Catalonia: The Revolution of Dignity

I begin this report from the electoral college in my neighbourhood, where about eighty of us have shut ourselves in  order to protect it during tomorrow’s referendum.  This may seem a little strange or ridiculous to British readers, but this  is actually happening in a country that calls itself a democratic member of the European Union.  At the request of the public prosecutor’s office,  the Supreme Court of the Justice of Catalonia has ordered all electoral colleges to close at 6 tomorrow morning in order to prevent the referendum on self-determination convoked some months ago by the Catalan government (Generalitat).

Hundreds of electoral colleges across Catalonia have been similarly occupied by peaceful protestors to prevent their closure,  and ensure that the vote takes place tomorrow.   Schools have been kept open since Friday evening in order to prevent them from being closed.

The last few weeks have been charged with high intensity.  The Spanish state has done everything possible to abort the referendum, from raiding printing shops without legal authority in search of papers and ballots to violating postal secrecy, by opening letters and confiscating magazines simply because they mentioned the referendum.  It has confiscated electoral papers, letters directed to members of electoral tables, electoral posters.

More than 150 websites have been closed – which fortunately were immediately reopened – in  addition to Google apps that gave information about which electoral colleges to vote at.  Police have tried to enter without authorisation the headquarters of a legal political party, the CUP ( Popular Unity Candidacy), and were only prevented by the rapid mobilisation of the people.  These police interventions reached a peak on  20 September,  when the Civil Guard arrested 14 officials and technicians from the Generalitat on charges of preparing the referendum.

Two of the arrests carried during this razzia (raid) were particularly serious.  In one case a woman was arrested in the street in front of her children as she was taking them to school.  The children had to be taken in a taxi without knowing who or why their mother had been arrested so violently.  In another incident, an official from the Generalitat was driving his car when a motorcycle and two cars blocked his path and seven or eight agents took him away,  as if were a narcotraficante or a terrorist.

All this was clearly intended to send a message.  In response to every  intervention the people have mobilised, protesting peacefully at printing shops with carnations. The arrests produced an immediate popular response. Outside the Department of the Economy, where some of the arrests took place, people began to gather in large numbers when they heard what was happening.  Within a few hours the centre of Barcelona was completely blocked by crowds calling the detainees to be set free.  Throughout this period,  popular pressure has continued to intensify. Everyday at 10 o’clock there was a cacerolada (pot-banging) and some two hundred people spent the night in front of the Supreme Court of Justice, before the detained officials were charged and released after making their declarations in handcuffs – something that very rarely happens.

In response the state brought in two Italian cruise ships and another from Tarragona to the port of Barcelona filled with police and Civil Guard from different parts of Spain.  This expeditionary force left its barracks fired up with shouts of ‘ Go for them!’ as if they were crusaders hunting infidels.

The demonstrations in solidarity with the detainees and the involvement of the whole of society have been the crucial determining factors in bringing together so many different sectors that have made the referendum possible.   Students have staged multiple demonstrations and occupied the University of Barcelona.  Firemen have helped with these demonstrations.  Longshoremen refused to supply the police cruise ships in the port.  Farmers used their tractors to slow traffic and cut roads.  Collectives of lawyers demonstrated against police legal irregularities.   Rural agents, teachers and taxi drivers offered to transport invalids or incapacitated people to polling stations.  Committees in Defense of the Referendum were organised by teachers, neighbourhood associations and political parties to protect the electoral colleges.

Now let me pick up the tale after the referendum.  The whole world has witnessed the barbarity of the Spanish police on their tv screens.   They behaved like lunatics, cynically attacking people whose only crime was their desire to vote.  They did this without any provocation or warning, beating old people and young on the waist, face and head, deliberately dislocating fingers, and in one case sexually assaulting girls by touching their breasts.  They fired rubber bullets (prohibited in Catalonia since 2014) at close range directly at the body.  Although we knew about the violent historical character of the Spanish state, we were not prepared for such savagery.

The police laughed at the pain of their victims and insulted them.  In addition to personal injuries, they vandalised the schools where the president, vicepresident and president of the Parliament of Catalonia  were going to vote.  Of course they didn’t do this in any school in the city of Badalona, where – what a coincidence! – the local Partido Popular MP intends to run again in 2019.

893 injured, one of whom may lose an eye – many more than the wounded during the August terrorist attacks – these awful  events have shocked many people, some of whom are still affected by the terrorist violence, and left us with a sense of  rage and generalised impotence.

It’s possible that Rajoy took this decision in order to see how far he could take the repression and measure what the response of the people would be.  The government has had the temerity to say that the  international consequences don’t matter much, when it comes to saving the sacred unity of the fatherland.  What is clear is that whether they wanted it or not, they have lost Catalonia forever.  Independence might come this month or in a few years, but the relationship between Catalonia and Spain will never be the same.  After this declaration of war,  no dialogue or pact is possible.  They have broken the cards.  .

And what about the EU?  A lukewarm condemnation of the violence and little more –  exactly what you would expect from a club of countries that allows thousands of people to die in the Mediterranean and sells human lives to an authoritarian state like Turkey.

For Catalans the only thing that remains to us now is to give some value to the referendum that we managed to organise admittedly in less than optimal conditions, but with a real determination to stand up to the barbarity and get round the obstacles that Spain placed in our path.   Only by declaring independence will we obtain protection from this fascist state,  even it goes badly for us in the first weeks.  Spain will never permit a negotiated referendum.  The EU says that we are an internal Spanish problem.  We could be trapped for decades in this loop.

Enough!  The people have spoken

9 thoughts on “Despatches from Catalonia

  1. I agree with much of this, but think of Brexit. A referendum that has a majority of a minority suggesting fundamental change does not provide a mandate for such change. That is no excuse for police brutality or a refusal to allow the people a say in political matters.

    • Partially agree but as I said, this is not the referendum we wanted, we would have preferred a negotiated one with Spain. But this was the only one possible, and we can’t throw away the vote of 2.26 million people (out of 5.31) cast in a framework of terror. In normal circumstances the turnout would be much higher. The ‘No’ voters had their chance to vote as well as the ‘Yes’ ones. No other way out was found in a conflict in wich the Spanish part has repeatedly said ‘no’ to all proposals.

      • I can see that. But nevertheless i still don’t see how a referendum like this can be the basis for a unilateral Declaration of Independence. It was always unlikely that ‘no’ voters would turn out en masse for a referendum like this, and the percentage that did vote no this time doesn’t reflect previous surveys, If Spain invokes Article 155 and imposes direct rule, backed up by the army, what will happen? Catalonia will be crushed. No state or institution will support you. Things may get far worse than this – and not only for a few weeks

        • Matt, numbers are numbers, Yes voters: 2,044,038 turnout: 43.03 percent. In a normal referendum without violence, taking as hypothesis the highest turnout of recent years, (27 sept. 2015), 77.44 percent, and taking in account that ALL new voters, would vote NO, the result still would be in favour of Yes, I made an Excel that makes it clear, I’ll send to you.
          Article 155 will be invoked in any case, in fact economically we are in direct rule yet, our only possible defense is making the ID.
          Supports? On 5-23-1991 Slovenia declared the aim to make an ID, 12 EU member states and US said they would never support them. On 5-25-1991 Slovenia declared independence. 10 days later, on 6-04-1991 Germany and US support Slovenia’s independence due the agressive behavior of Serb army. So what about Catalonia? Maybe, maybe not.. 🙂

          • But you can’t declare UDI on the basis of a hypothesis! You will be looking a civil conflict inside Catalonia, and a total rejection from within Spain and without. And Slovenia isn’t a good comparison. Slovenia wasn’t as important economically to Yugoslavia as Catalonia is to Spain. There were very few Serbs there so it didn’t within the ‘Greater Serbia’ project. And Germany and other countries supported Slovenia because they also supported Croatia – and because much of Western Europe was quite happy to see the disintegration of a communist state. And remember what happened afterwards? No European state will support secession that leads to the break up of Spain. You will be on your own and defenseless.

          • But you can’t declare UDI on the basis of a hypothesis! You will be looking a civil conflict inside Catalonia, and a total rejection from within Spain and without. And Slovenia isn’t a good comparison. Slovenia wasn’t as important economically to Yugoslavia as Catalonia is to Spain. There were very few Serbs there so it didn’t within the ‘Greater Serbia’ project. And Germany and other countries supported Slovenia because they also supported Croatia – and because much of Western Europe was quite happy to see the disintegration of a communist state. And remember what happened afterwards? No European state will support secession that leads to the break up of Spain. They will only support a negotiated independence. You will be on your own and defenseless.

  2. The DI will be on the basis of the referendum, not hypothesis. We have a democratic mandate of 2,286,217 voters (43.03%) who despite the horrendous violence came to the polling stations to cast their vote. Civil conflict? Our actions and manners have always been peacefully. 6 years of huge demonstrations with not a single incident. The violence is on the other side.
    Anyway, we’ll see tomorrow afternoon’s session of the Parliament and we’ll can go on discussing..
    I strongly recommend this article of Jordi Graupera about how necessary is for us to make the DI, a little bit long but worthy reading (in Spanish):

    http://www.elnacional.cat/es/opinion/jordi-graupera-10-respuestas-sobre-declaracion-independencia_199869_102.html

  3. The Brexit & Catalonia referenda lead to some interesting discussions about national and regonial identity and its importance in the future of the european state. However the PPE debate must first resolve the compulsory vote question. Do accept that people must vote to validate the result or is the overriding choice to vote the test of democracy.

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