By Michael Sainato
On October 1, voting on the Independence referendum in Catalonia, Spain descended into chaos as Spain’s National Police Forces tried to prevent the vote by violently assaulting voters. The referendum was banned by the Spanish Government and deemed unconstitutional. In response to Catalonia officials insisting on holding the vote, Spain’s Central Government sent in police forces to stop it, confiscating ballot boxes, and breaking down polling stations. Several disturbing videos circulated on social media of police beating unarmed, peaceful citizens with batons, shooting them with rubber bullets, and fighting with firefighters and local police trying to protect citizens. The Spanish Government’s response to try to stop the referendum has developed into an embarrassment for the country, only serving to demonstrate the authoritarianism of the country’s central government to the rest of the World.
Catalonia, in the northwest region of Spain of 7.5 million people, is home to Barcelona, a city with a population of 1.6 million. The region comprises of 16 percent of Spain’s population, 19 percent of the country’s GDP, and over 25 percent of the country’s exports.
The latest independence referendum is the second time the region has formally called for a vote on independence from the rest of Spain. In 2014, 80 percent of voters on an referendum deemed illegal by Spain’s central government chose independence for Catalonia, with 2.2 million out of 5.4 million eligible voters casting a ballot.
Catalonia’s Conservative President, Carles Piegdemont, has led efforts to hold the referendum despite the risks of imprisonment he faces for doing so. “The image of the Spanish state has reached levels of shame that will stay with them forever,” he told a crowd of supporters on October 1. “Today the Spanish state has lost a lot more than it had already lost, and Catalan citizens have won a lot more than they had won until now.”
During a press conference, the left-wing Mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau called for an end to police action;
“The Rajoy government has insisted on turning to the courts, hiding behind judges and public prosecutors to avoid its responsibility to act politically,” she said. “Today it has gone a step further and crossed the Rubicon. I have to say that Mariano Rajoy is a coward who is not equal to his responsibilities of state. A prime minister assumes his responsibilities and looks for solutions. He doesn’t making things more difficult and hide behind thousands of police against a peaceful and defenseless citizenry.” She then called on Rajoy to resign in the wake of the police violence and helped a hashtag on Twitter go viral calling for Rajoy to do so.
Polls have shown only 40 percent of Catalans support independence, but a majority support holding a referendum vote on the issue. The Spanish Government’s response to the referendum has likely increased this support.
Growing calls for Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to resign have resulted in response to the police crackdown on voters, and the brutal scenes have inspired calls of support from UK Labor Leader Jeremy Corbyn, though the European and Global Community have remained relatively silent on the violence. Over 750 people were injured, including several elderly citizens. Several activists slept in polling stations overnight to protect them from police raids and ensure Catalan citizens the right to vote on October 1. In the days leading up to the vote, Spanish Government Police confiscated millions of ballots to stop the vote and dismantled the communications system used to connect polling sites with one another, but activists pursued holding the vote on the referendum despite the opposition. Out of 2,262,424 ballots that were not seized by the Spanish Government, 2,020,144 voted yes for Catalonia’s independence, roughly 90 percent of the vote.