From La Diada to an Attack on Democracy
18th September 2017
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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