For years and generations the idea of Catalunya as an own country has been in peoples’ minds. For about ten years Spain has tried to ignore, neglect, and diminish peoples’ wish for freedom. The region of Catalonia has more rights compared to other regions in Spain and already more freedom. In the past year the will to become independent has taken over. Catalans managed to hold a referendum that the Spanish government tried to prevent. This was a part of a clandestine action with people only knowing a small part of the big plan. Ten-thousand urns had to be brought into the country. Several million ballots were prepared. Shortly before the referendum a massive movement of civil unrest prevented a crackdown by Spanish national police, leaving hundreds wounded. What is next ? The Rajoy-led government declared – after brutally beating down elderly women and men – that there was no referendum. Following through on this process, here an inside view on the last days before and after the referendum.
Student Participation, Drive and Motivation
A major power keeping up the drive of this movement were students from all over Spain. A little more than one week before the referendum a group decided to occupy the university of Barcelona. From that point on,the university was center of pro-referendum protest. Speakers of the students’ movement were greeted and thanked by high-ranking members of the Catalan Parliament at the final campaign rally. Students took to the streets. Students reacted to Rajoy’s speech with a march of silence. Students shaped the image of protest. This young generation that is also involved in anti-sexist, anti-racist and a lot of other kinds of anti-fascist work majorly influenced the outcome. Talking to an activist asking her to take position on nationalism and on who will be Catalan and who not, one thing came clear quite fast was: This social movement is very heterogeneous. There is not one opinion on how to see a Catalan state. To some this is just a basis for a process trying to start a social-revolution, to some it is an inherited opinion – in families minds for years.
Interview on hopes and expectations of secessions from Spain, with Lluc – fine-art student from Barcelona:
Two days before the referendum was held, the group ‚hola republica‘ organized a giant propaganda event. Some of the most famous Catalan musicians played in front of the four columns at Placa d’Espanya. Ten-thousands attended.. People were holding up huge letters stating ‚Independence‘. What would happen the upcoming days could already be felt during this event. First schools were occupied. Whilst thousands were attending this event in the background a clandestine organization of unbelievably well planned structure began working.
Clandestine organisation and Referendum Day
It turns out that the more than ten-thousand urns were ordered in China and shipped to ‚North Catalunya‘ in France, which was a place for refugees from Catalunya during the Spanish Civil War, and therefore has a huge symbolic character. The urns were then transported over the Spanish-French border in private cars, being handed over and then hidden in private houses, shortly before the referendum. We spoke to people that only afterwards realized that their house hid a urne. Holding schools occupied, in the morning of the referendum day the urns arrived. People were already waiting around schools to prevent spanish national police from entering. At night the feelings in occupied schools were mixed. For many this was the first squatting they ever took part in. Many were scared of what to come. The first hours of October first proved them right. Spanish police used violence against normal people on a massive scaled. Elderly men and women were beaten until fainting. For many Catalans this is bad flashback to the years of Franco. Not only on physical level Spanish Police was trying to stop all of this from happening. Internet in schools was cut. Websites to register voters were shut down, but the voting continued. The neuralgic moment of starting to count started at 8PM. A second brutal police intervention was feared.At night a party-like atmosphere evolved even though hundreds of people were hurt. On Twitter videos were getting thousands of retweets where urns were transported to hospitals so the injured could vote as well.
To put pressure on the Spanish state, parties, workers’ unions and social institutions called for a general strike. This social strike called thousands of people to the street. Public transportation came to a shutdown in Barcelona. Taxis were not running to certain parts of the city. The impact on economy and society has to be seen the next days. Activists told us the plan is to keep this block of public life up for some at least ten days. CGT is calling for diplomacy.
Voices against the Referendum
In Barcelona enemies of the referendum took to the streets as well. Unionists were protesting for a united Spain. Joining them were fascists and neonazis openly displaying neonacistic symbols. Some impressions:
Catalonia – meaning the Catalan government/narrow majority of its elected representatives [EDIT October 6th, 2:18 PM CET]- wants to be independent. Rajoy has to admit, that people decided that, voting. This payback of failed politics on Catalonia by his and former Spanish governments led to one of Europe’s biggest, best organised and smartest clandestine social movements. If the Spanish government does not react adequately, they are risking an uncontrollable situation. With the Catalan police Mossos d’Esquadra already sympathizing with the protest the situation could turn very ugly in the near future. The Catalan government announced to declare independency on Monday October 9th.
For the social movement not becoming independent now would mean never becoming independent. Still criticism should be put on the movement and it should be closely watched:
How is determined who is Catalan and who is not?
Are emancipatory goals, that are part of the agenda actually going to be reached or at least tried to be reached?
How will minorities be treated? – and many questions more.
All of Europe is watching – other autonomy movements will think about referenda in the near future if Catalonia becomes an own country, for sure.