Madrid’s Losing Battle: The right to vote in Cataluña, Matthew Jacobson PhD

by Matthew Jacobson PhD.

Madrid has made a fatal mistake and the next eight days in Cataluña and Spain will prove to be historic. It is a show down that the central Spanish government will lose. The recent entrance of the Spanish Civil Guard into Catalan government offices to arrest politicians who are accused of organizing material for the referendum for independence on October 1st is a direct violation of the Catalan’s people’s right to express themselves in a representative democracy. The issue of whether the Catalan’s want or don’t want independence is one part of larger critical debate, but now the fight is about their right to free expression and the most fundamental right in a democratic society, their right to vote. If Madrid thinks that Catalan’s are going to back down out of fear and accept their false promises of dialogue they are wrong. The president of Cataluña, Carles Puigdemont and the Catalan government has made it clear that the Catalan’s will have the referendum regardless of Madrid’s threats. The conflict is escalating as the central Spanish government, led by its presidentMariano Rajoy, now has brought three cruise ships filled with Civil Guards into the port of Barcelona prepared to enter the city to prevent voting on October 1st[1]. The Catalan’s have a long history of resistance against oppression and domination, they will not back down. Rather than accept the reality that Catalan’s have the right to express their opinions, Madrid´s attempts to stop the referendum with the brute force of the police will only end up in confrontations that will further embarrass and alienate the Spanish state in the eyes of the international community. The only reasonable and wise decision at this point is for the Spanish government to acknowledge their mistake and sit out the referendum. If they believe the Catalan´s will vote no then they have nothing to worry about. If they try to stop the referendum forcibly the Catalan´s will find a way to vote anyway, in the streets fighting, on the Internet, or in whatever way they have to. Regardless, the Catalan’s will vote.

The nationalist project in Spain has always been an attempt to bring different cultural and language groups under the control of a monarchy and State. In contrast to other European countries that have one city that is the heart of the State, Madrid has always had to attempt to control the regions of the Iberian Peninsula through military or economic domination or negotiation. Cataluña’s history is embedded in the historical struggle for sovereignty and the freedom to control its own economic and social destiny. The Catalan´s have fought for this right for centuries. They lived through thirty years of fascist oppression and dictatorship and maintained their language and culture. The threat of the Spanish police will not stop them from expressing their will, it will only get stronger.

The Spanish state joined the European Union as part of a centralizing project; one that has had the impact of creating a European market that has had at best mixed results for the people of Spain as reflected in greater inequality and State debt, skyrocketing unemployment and a division between corporate power and the people. Countries like Spain, Greece, Portugal and Ireland have become the periphery of the European corporate power base and this has made them increasingly dependent on external investment and foreign development interests. The question of independence for Cataluña from the central control of Spain is a highly contested and complex debate in Cataluña. Critical questions remain: independence for whom, from what, and in the name of whose interests? Independence for Cataluña holds the promise of more regional control of the destiny of its people, a more collective and democratic society. Catalan society will be challenged to demonstrate that the forces behind independence are for the people’s interests and not merely a move by its corporate class to make higher profits. This is for the people to Cataluña to debate amongst themselves. Yet regardless of the debates about independence what is clear is that the Spanish government’s decision to enter Cataluña and attempt to physically deny the Catalan’s right to vote is a losing battle. The right to vote is the cornerstone of democracy and has been fought for throughout the past century as the essential tool in countering fascism and authoritarianism. If the Spanish state sends its civil guards on October 1st into the streets of Barcelona and other Catalan cities to attempt to stop them from expressing themselves through voting they will force a confrontation and battle. In whatever way they have to, the Catalan´s will express themselves with their hearts, souls and bodies on October 1st. No matter what happens, the day after they will be stronger and one step further on their way to controlling their own destiny.

[1] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-21/spain-hires-cruise-liner-to-house-police-in-rebel-catalonia