Cataluña’s Referendum Day by Matthew Jacobson, PhD.

Cataluña’s Referendum Day by Matthew Jacobson, PhD.

As a foreigner who has lived in Barcelona for more than ten years I have little to say about the movement for independence here or the issues that fill the papers with debates about Catalan politics. Yet what happened in the streets of Barcelona and all over Cataluña today will impact the people and region for years to come. The Catalan’s came to vote and exercised that right with dignity and honor.

It was nothing short of shocking and unbelievable to see riot squads of the National Police (Guardia Civil) come running up the sidewalk toward the voting station at a school in a neighborhood called la Barceloneta in full gear and smash their way through a peaceful and passive crowd of residents who had come with only one demand, to vote. The Guardia Civil never attempted to talk or warn the people that the needed to move or else they would use force. The people were never given the chance to move at all. The fully armed riot squads came in pushing aggressively and forcefully, hitting those who had gathered to block the front door of the voting building with their clubs, tearing them out of the crowd and throwing them at times to the cement. It was easy to see in the faces of the Guardia Civil that they had been ordered to fight and physically assault anyone that stood in their way. Amidst the screaming and panic you could see elderly, middle aged and young people bleeding from the head, laying in shock on the cement and running to avoid getting hit with the swinging black sticks. The Guardia Civil set up a line to block anyone from approaching the building and then some went in and took out the plastic voting tubs and voting ballots. They then rushed out back to the street to get back into the twenty or so vans that had brought them. The residents that had been standing for hours in line or slept all night in the voting centers stood around in shock, helping those that were hurt and at times screaming at the local Catalan police (Mossos d’esquadra) as to why they permitted such an atrocity to happen. It was unclear whether the Catalan police had asked for help from the Guardia Civil, they were being seen by many as allies as they had not intervened and had protected many of the people. You could see young and older people crying as the reality of being attacked and having their friends and loved ones being hurt began to sink in. It was an attack on residences that had gathered merely to vote. Similar scenes were repeated as 92 voting stations were targeted by the Guardia Civil to shut down. There were up to 800 people in the region of Cataluña who have to receive treatment for injuries sustained in the attacks.

If the Spanish government thought that these violent assaults would deter and scare the Catalan people from voting then they only demonstrated their ignorance, arrogance and impotence. When the voting stations where shut down the residents moved and voted to the cities government offices or where ever the Catalan government had designated as alternative voting sites. The vote went on all day with residents waiting in the rain for hours and hours as the Spanish government attempted to block their access to data needed to confirm the voter’s identity.

It was also shocking when the Spanish government decided to raid the Catalan government offices two weeks ago and arrest 14 people associated with the referendum preparations and confiscate voting material. It seemed clear that the threat to prohibit Catalan elections was an aggressive and bizarre attempt that was not only sure to fail, but a direct provocation bringing the battle to the street against the Catalan people themselves. The Spanish government not only couldn’t make good on their promise, their aggression only gave more motivation to the Catalan’s to resist and vote. The Spanish government set themselves up to fail, and fail they did. Today they not only did not stop the vote, they demonstrated for the whole world to see their arrogance, aggressiveness and impotence. They showed what many say is at the core of the conservative Spanish State, the fascist ideology from Franco’s era of dictatorship. The fact that the Spanish government would chose to act as a military state and attempt to violently deny the democratic rights of its citizens was shocking. The fact that they failed so miserably in the eyes of those here in Cataluña and all over the world only further demonstrates their ignorance and incompetence. As the Catalan’s and their supporters hear the results of the vote which will be a solid vote for independence they can be satisfied that regardless of the outcome they have won and can be proud that they proved that they will vote and they will decide. For those in other parts of the Iberian Peninsula it is their time to rise up and demand a change in Madrid, to refuse and reject a political system that is undemocratic and based on violence, oppression and private interests. Tomorrow the Catalan’s will have to decide what independence means to them. They will need to create a social base to their political system that is based on the common social good and inclusion for all its residents and people. It will take a lot of determination to make Cataluña a region that is a hallmark for equality, justice and democracy but today the Catalans made it clear that they refuse to be controlled or silenced. The next weeks and months will be promising and challenging in terms of how the Catalan’s will move forward. Whatever happens they have fought and won their battle with the Spanish government for their right to free expression and the right to vote ‘molt be’.