Catalonia fights for its independence, Madrid - for the integrity of Spain
Some 761 people were injured in disturbances across Catalonia on Sunday, 1 October, the region’s emergency officials said. Riot police used force to try to block voting in Catalonia’s independence referendum.
The Spanish government had pledged to stop what it said was a poll the country’s constitutional court had found illegal. Police officers prevented some people from voting, and seized ballot papers and boxes at polling stations.
In the regional capital Barcelona, police used batons and fired rubber bullets during pro-referendum protests.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said in the evening of 1 October that he did not acknowledge the vote, adding that Catalans had been fooled into taking part in an illegal vote.
Twelve policemen are among those who’ve been injured, while three protesters have been arrested, the interior ministry reports.
The mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau has condemned the police’s actions against what she called the region’s ‘defenceless population’.
Catalonian leader Carles Puigdemont told journalists Spain’s ‘unjustified, irrational and irresponsible’ use of violence was not going to stop the independence referendum.
Several days before the referendum
Two public organizations, Omnium Cultural and ANC (National Assembly of Catalonia), seem to be the main organizing force behind the referendum. On a number of occasions during the past six years, they have mobilized over a million people to participate in street protests. Both organizations enjoy massive support across Catalonia and earn hundreds of thousands of euros from the sales of goods bearing their symbols and also from their membership fees.
The ANC boasts around 40 thousand members and the same number of volunteers. Omnium Cultural has 38,000 members.
Both organizations had called for peaceful resistance to any police action.
Since Friday, 29 September, thousands of people had started to occupy schools and other buildings designated as polling stations in order to keep them open. Many of those inside were parents and their children who remained in the buildings after the end of lessons on Friday and bedded down in sleeping bags on gym mats.
In some areas, farmers positioned tractors on roads and in front of polling station doors, and school gates were taken away to make it harder for the authorities to seal buildings off.
Before the poll, Spanish authorities seized voting materials, imposed fines on top Catalan officials and temporarily detained dozens of politicians. Police also occupied the regional government’s telecommunications centre.
A rally-cum-concert attracted about 20,000 people on Friday evening. “Inde-independencia!” the crowd chanted enthusiastically.
Why was the referendum called?
Catalonia is a wealthy region of 7.5 million people in north-eastern Spain. It has its own language and culture.
Like three other Spanish regions (out of a total number of seventeen), Catalonia became autonomous in 1979, several years after Franco’s death. The status as an autonomy allowed it a certain degree of discretion in the fields of healthcare and education. Also, it gave it its own law enforcement agencies, its own government and parliament.
However, Madrid retained the right to veto any decision taken by the Catalonian government.
In 2005, a new reform was carried out, and the Catalonians were allowed to call themselves ‘a nation that is a part of the Spanish one’. Additionally, the region could now keep some of the tax money it collected.
However, elsewhere in Spain, many opposed the reform. The party of the country’s current prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, lodged a suit with the constitutional court, and the result was a ruling passed in 2010 that called the reform null and void. Catalonia could no longer call itself a nation or retain tax revenue. This marked the moment protests started to brew in the region.
On 9 November 2014, the Catalonian government held a public ‘consultation’, asking Catalonians one question: “Do you wish for Catalonia to become an independent state?” 2.1 million people turned up to participate in the informal vote, and 80.76 percent of them answered yes.
Most observers said at the time the high support percentage was because many independence opponents had boycotted the vote. Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy said the vote went against the constitution referring to “the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards”.
However, as soon as the vote results had come through, several Catalonian parties – ultra-left as well as ultra-right – came together to form a coalition called Junts Pel Si (“Together for the yes vote”), and they promised to hold a ‘full-fledged’ referendum within 18 months after the election.
The eighteen months will expire in October 2017.
The key suspects are members of the Rajoy-led People’s Party.