independence – self-determination – autonomy

From La Diada to an Attack on Democracy


As the Spanish state flexes its authoritarian muscle and attempts to repress the rights of self-determination of the Catalan people, William Thomson reports for Bella Caledonia from Barcelona.

It’s been a week since La Diada celebrations in Barcelona. Last Monday a million people took to the streets to create a massive, luminous, yellow plus sign, stretching across some of Barcelona’s biggest streets.

What a seven days we have had here in Barcelona since then. It’s been almost impossible to keep up with the major developments as the Catalan Government and the pro-independence supporters, react to the increasingly dictatorial actions of the Spanish Government.

In the first 72 hours that followed the rally, to coincide and to distract from the national and international coverage of the mass demonstrations, the Catalan hopes of holding a referendum took a battering from the Spanish establishment.

During this pretty short period of time, Spain truly went on the offensive:

  • The Spanish Constitutional Court suspended a Catalan law that drafted a legal framework for an independent state
  • The official Catalan Government TV ad was removed from Spanish networks
  • A planned pro independence event in Madrid was banned
  • Prosecutors in Catalonia ordered police to seize ballot boxes, election flyers and any specific item that could be used in support of an independence referendum (first they came for the printers, and then the staplers)
  • Prosecutors ordered an investigation of the 712 Catalan mayors who have officially supported the Catalan referendum
  • Sources from the National Police corps said that there will be an increase in the number of Guardia Civil officers in Catalonia in the lead up to the planned vote
  • Spanish PM, Mariano Rajoy, said anyone working at a polling station will be committing a crime
  • The official Referendum website was shut down, and within minutes hosted and relaunched
  • The Spanish postal service is ordered not to handle material related to the Catalan independence referendum

These are the actions of a western European government.

A government that has declared a referendum, supported by a majority of the elected representatives in the Catalan parliament to be illegal. A government clearly hell bent on making sure that democracy loses. They also clearly want to make sure that the Catalans fell, see and know that it is the Spanish establishment leading the attack.

By Thursday evening the despondent mood had changed. It seemed as it the initial storm from Madrid was a little unexpected in Barcelona but a speech by President of the Catalan Generalitat, Carles Puigdemont, seemed to steady the movement. “Hola, república. Hola, Europa. Hola, nuevo pias” was the message displayed in front of over 6000 supporters at an event in Tarragona.

Although mainly still reacting to the incessant hacking and slashing of the Spanish Government the independent movement, over the next 72 hours, proved exceptionally quick to react to the Spanish Government’s actions.

There was no let up over the next few days:

  • On Friday President Carles Puigdemont released a copy of a letter sent to the Spanish Government. It called for “a new call to dialogue” without preconditions. It was mockingly half acknowledged in Madrid.
  • Danish MPs express “deep concern” over the political tensions growing in Catalonia. “In a democracy, threats and judiciary and legal responses are not the solution,” adding “politicians, not judges or police forces, should primarily deal with political tensions in any European democratic country.” This is much needed direct support for the independence campaign and more importantly international chastising of the Spanish government.
  • Early Friday evening, while speaking in Barcelona, Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy celebrates the “capture” of 100,000 leaflets. “The Civil Guard has seized more than one hundred thousand Catalan government propaganda posters” In what clearly appears to be grand standing, he adds, “not too far from here; more than one hundred thousand. And they have done so in defence of the law, the Constitution and the rights of citizens, as is their duty”. Unconfirmed reports see a pallet handcuffed, for aiding and abetting, and tossed in the back of a blue and white Guarda Civil car.
  • Police officers visit four pro-independence newspapers to notify them not to publish any referendum adverts. One of the outlets responds by saying it will defend “freedom of speech and the right of citizens to be informed”. Meanwhile, Spanish papers are free to print adverts saying “Don’t vote, don’t participate”
  •  On Saturday afternoon the most important response to the sabre rattling of Spain takes place.  Puigdemont gathers over 700 mayors (all of whom have been threatened with legal action) for supporting the referendum. With a supportive crowd gathered outside the The Palau de la Generalitat de Catalunya, a short walk from Las Ramblas, the collective will of the elected officials is clearly strengthened. The images from the meeting are striking and powerful. The Spanish Government continue to act as the best possible PR machine for the independence movement.
  • Later that day thousands of Basques march in Bilbao to support a Catalan referendum, many calling for a similar vote in in the Basque Country.
  • On Saturday the Scottish Government, via Cabinet Secretary for External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, makes a statement “all peoples have the right to self-determination and to choose the form of government best suited to their needs, a principle which is enshrined in the UN Charter” On face value it’s a pretty lukewarm and general message of support to the Catalan independence movement. Oriol Junqueras, Vice President of the Catalan Government Generalitat de Catalunya, thanks Nicola Sturgeon for her “support for democracy”
  • Throughout the weekend many MPs, MSPs and former MPs voice their concerns about the situation in Catalonia. “While democratically elected Catalan mayors defend democratic parliamentary decision to hold democratic referendum – Spain sends in police” tweets Angus Robertson.
  • On Saturday telecom companies block access to the main voting instruction website. Movistar confirm their actions are in response to a court order.
  • In an increasingly bizarre weekend the Catalan Government issue instructions on how to install a proxy server to access their new referendum website. By Monday morning over 500,000 people have visited the site.
  • On Sunday afternoon a chilling statement comes from the Spanish Attorney General. José Manuel Maza, says he would consider arresting Catalan president Carles Puigdemont in order to stop the independence referendum to be held on October 1.

It’s now late morning in Barcelona. It’s just past the deadline when Spain said it would take control of paying public servants in Catalonia as a way to ensure that funds were not illegally spent on anything to do with the referendum.  Catalonia’s Finance Minster downplays the change, saying it’s just “control of expenses”

With less than two weeks to go it’s clear that not only will things not slow down, they are likely to accelerate. The Catalans are in for a dizzying fortnight.

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13 Comments

  • w.b.robertson 1 month ago

    what support, political or otherwise, will the mighty EC give to the Catalonian cause? Don`t hold your breath!

    Reply
  • Redgauntlet 1 month ago

    The whole thing is a disaster from start to finish, and it’s going to get worse…anything could happen now.

    One thing for sure, the Catalans are going to lose. The Spanish State is never going to accept a unilateral declaration of independence from Catalunya, forget it….and the EU are never going to back it either. They can’t and they won’t…

    The underlying error of all the analyses I read in Scotland is that Spain is a standard, European democracy comparable to France or Germany or Britain. It is not I’m afraid. It is a country where democratic forces have tended to be crushed whenever they got into power. The Spanish Right Wing are thoroughly authoritarian, which is a better word for them than “fascistas” which is how they are sometimes described… right now, they are rubbing their hands in glee at the chance to put the Catalans firmly in their place….

    Nobody here is acting “democratically”. Rajoy has had only ever had one word for the Catalans and that word is “no”. It’s incredible. He won’t even sit down to talk about it.

    But the Catalans are hardly acting democratically either. There is no majority for independence in Catalonia and what the Catalan government is proposing is UDI express, backed by the Catalan media which they finance and run…

    There is a majority for an independence referendum in Catalunya, but one carried out with democratic guarantees. There’s isn’t even an up to date census at the moment. Where are the Catalans going to vote? Some town halls are refusing to allow voting to take place. So some Catalans will vote, others won’t, others still won’t be able to….

    What kind of a democratic outcome can anybody expect from this situation? It’s like something from a bygone era…

    Spanish democracy is shown up for what it is: a farce…a total farce…

    The SNP leadership, if they are wise, will steer well clear. Because the shit is really going to hit the fan over the next couple of weeks. Anything could happen, and I’m pretty sure that there will be some kind of violent incident…..

    Reply
  • Wiliam Ross 1 month ago

    The Spanish government are the nice people who will be helpful to newly independent Scotland???

    Reply
  • Charles L. Gallagher 1 month ago

    I agree with previous comments but as this disaster in the making unfolds I just hope that those in Wastemonster that want to keep Scotland under their oppressive thumb watch closely how a peaceful demand for a vote on their future descends into violence and they’ll as usual call it ‘Terrorism’!!! Be warned Wastemonster.

    Reply
  • enric 1 month ago

    Spain is going to lose, cause now , now there are many people in catalunya that want to vote, not only to vote, now they can see what kind of democracy central gov. have for us, so independent vote is going to grow more than ever.. … more than ever, is psicology for children …. cmon

    Reply
  • Kenny Smith 1 month ago

    Spanish should just have had the referendum fixed like they did here. Call me what you like there was no way London was letting us walk off, the real sad part is the Scots who make Judas look like a stand up guy by aiding and abetting the colonial masters. They had to make it a believable result but 55/45 just never rang true with me. They know the real result which is why we,l never get another. I’d love for Scots to have a peaceful break and stay on good terms with England/rUK but sooner or later our MPs will have to withdraw from Westminster and formally revoke the treaty of union, when that will be god knows, I would like to think it would happen before brexit but I’m not confident, too may yessers still can’t see a union with Westminster is far more oppressive than one with Europe. Anyway I will be keeping my fingers and toes crossed for the Catalans, aw the best!!

    Reply
    • Alf Baird 1 month ago

      “sooner or later our MPs will have to withdraw from Westminster and formally revoke the treaty of union”

      This is what they may have to do, in order to end the union in the same way it began, minus the bribes. The Catalans arguably have a more difficult challenge, lacking a formal political union, but they are showing great courage. As the Icelanders say, independence needs “backbone”. Nicola and Scotland’s democratically elected majorities of alleged independence supporting MPs and MSPs need to find theirs.

      Reply
  • gunna 1 month ago

    spain is going to lose

    Reply
  • Henry Holland 1 month ago

    William Thomson’s report is much appreciated, I deeply wish he will write again on the subject soon for B.C: but I wonder who the cynicism & cheap plugs for UDI amongst the comments are meant to serve. Red Gauntlet usefully spotlights the anti-democratic nature of UDI; but then fallaciously associates the core of the Catalonia indy movement with these politics. Red Gauntlet: when you generalize about the Catalan indepedence movement, claiming – “There is no majority for independence in Catalonia and what the Catalan government is proposing is UDI express, backed by the Catalan media which they finance and run…”- aren’t you willfully ignoring the interesting detail? If the Catalan media are indeed all for Catalonia indy, down to the last woman and man, how do we account for Ada Colau getting elected mayor of Barcelona in 2015, on a grassroots-democratic program, which is not uncritically pro-independence? Did she get elected without any media backing at all? That would be wierd! Colau, 2016: “I’m not fighting for independence; neither Catalan nor Spanish. I’m here to breakdown the borders because they only exist for the poor.” Finally, can anyone decipher what Red Gauntlet means with his category of “standard European democracy” (apparently including UK, Germany and France) and his claim that Spain doesn’t belong in this category. I argue that this line of argument is a form of veiled cultural imperialism, a way of looking down supercilliously on the “undeveloped” Spanish state.

    Reply
    • Redgauntlet 1 month ago

      Henry, I’m not going to give you a history class on Spain BTL on Bella.

      Go to the local library if you’re that curious, though do I need to point out that the Spanish State locked up a number of elected Catalan MPs yesterday and that the Spanish State refuses to grant the Catalans a referendum?

      All the polls say the same thing; there is a big majority for a referendum in Catalonia, but not a majority for independence. The split on indie is in the same ballpark as Scotland and the Union with England…

      Reply
  • Redguantlet 1 month ago

    Rajoy sending in police reinforcements from Madrid to prevent the referendum…

    The shock troops of what the poet Antonio Machado called “the Spain that will freeze your heart….”

    “There’s a Spaniard who wants to live
    And begins to live
    Between a Spain who dies
    And a Spain who yawns
    Oh little Spaniard when you come to the world
    May God look after you
    For one of the two Spains
    Will freeze your heart”

    Here they come, Rajoy’s boys….

    Unbelievable. But no surprise.

    ¡¡¡Visca Catalunya!!!

    Reply
  • Redguantlet 1 month ago

    The Spanish Public Prosecutor (Fiscalía del Estado) has just announced it is pressing charges of sedition against those who organized the mass demonstrations in favour of the referendum…

    …the maximum prison term for sedition is fifteen years.

    Spain is not a normal European democracy. It should be suspended from the European Union. A disgrace to democracy, Mariano Rajoy and his corrupt, thieving government, are a disgrace to European democracy. A bunch of Francoists thieves and misogynists who swapped the Blue Shirt for the blue shirt with stripes at the time of the Transition to democracy…

    These guys – Aznar, Rajoy the PP entirely and a good part of the Spanish establishment in general, right up to the King – those sons of Franco, never believed in democracy really.

    Why did they adopt a democracy in 1977? Because it was the only way they could get into the EU. Under Franco, Spain had been refused entry twice…and Spanish business wanted into the single market….

    As we are seeing now, they do not care about freedom of expression or assembly….

    The Spain that will “freeze the heart”….

    Fachas de mierda….

    Reply
  • Redguantlet 1 month ago

    As the Spanish writer Francisco Umbral wittily wrote, the Right Wing in Spain are like the Trinity, they come in three different manifestations: politics, the judiciary, and the media, like the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost…

    The Spanish judiciary is politicized to the hilt…

    The Media, as always, are going ballistic in Madrid, frothing at the mouth…

    “España, uno, grande y libre” was what Franco’s supporters used to chant with their right arms in the air in a fascist salute when Franco used to address the crowds in the Plaza Oriente in Madrid…

    These days, they don’t have their arms in the air, instead they’re holding up the Spanish Constitution of 1978 which they say is written in stone….

    …but with Rajoy and the PP in power, it’s the same message, and the same intransigence, and the same rancid Spanish nationalism at heart as when Franco was alive… Castile is the centre, everything else is the periphery…

    As Rimbaud wrote in a diary entry when gun-running in Africa, having given up poetry and France, WHAT AM I DOING HERE????

    Reply

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