“Que no subestimin la força del poble de Catalunya (Do not underestimate the power of the people of Catalonia)” –Catalonia President Carles Puigdemont
Artur Mas served as president of Catalonia, an autonomous region of Spain, from 2010 to 2016. During that time, he called for a referendum to decide if Catalonia should become an independent state. Catalonia, being a wealthy region (comprising nearly a fifth of the Spanish economy) with its own vibrant language and unique culture, has sought its independence for centuries, embroiled in constant struggles from the earlier conquering forces of the Spanish Empire to today’s oppressive central government based in Madrid.
With the Spanish Constitution barring regional referendums on sovereignty, the Catalan leader was punished by the Spanish constitutional court and was banned from holding public office and assessed a hefty fine.
His successor, Carles Puigdemont, showed he was not going to be intimidated and, after assuming office, was quick to announce another referendum – scheduled to take place in just over a week, October 1.
In response, the Spanish government dispatched its Guardia Civil to the region as the central government demanded the vote be “postponed.”
After the Catalan government resisted the call, the national law enforcement body has since been ordered to raid local printing companies for referendum materials and, just this week, stormed 40 local ministries and government offices.
Earlier, Spanish Finance Minister Cristóbal Montoro said the central government was going to take control of the Catalan budget, stripping the region of its abilities to manage its own funds.
He had also reportedly called Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras last week, giving him an ultimatum to call off the vote or risk losing funding for essential services – the Spanish official would later send a letter reminding the Catalan official that he was not “past deadline.”
Following the raids and the subsequent detainment of local officials, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said before parliament, “The government is doing what it has to do;” which resulted in the Catalan delegation walking out of the chamber.
What Spain is doing is only making the situation worse. What was already an uneasy relationship is only escalating because of the effort the central government is taking in stopping a populace from exercising basic rights.
In a report by James Badcock for the BBC, he said, “Although the Catalan independence movement has so far been peaceful, raids on government premises carried out by a Spanish militarized police force, the Guardia Civil, create uncomfortable echoes of the Franco dictatorship.”
As Puigdemont told English-language French network France24, in their treatment of Catalonia, the Spanish government has adopted a “totalitarian attitude.”
During the days when Francisco Franco rules Spain under a military dictatorship, Catalonia’s autonomy was virtually stripped, then-Catalan President Lluis Companys was executed, and the Catalan language itself was banned.
In a 2015 interview with the Telegraph, then-63-year-old Antoni Mas remembered life as a Catalan under Franco.
“We couldn’t speak Catalan in school, they would beat you,” he said.
Modern day Catalonia first declared independence in 1934, which was short-lived after the Spanish government responded with bombs. Oppressive rule under Franco and the Spanish government ran until 1975, after his death; however, while the region recovered some of its autonomous powers, it still lack authorities that were granted to other regions, like the Basque region, another area of Spain that has been seeking independence.
Following events of the past few days, Puigdemont took to the podium, surrounded by regional government officials, and condemned the actions of the Spanish government – actions Rajoy claimed “had to be done.”
“En aquestes darreres hores i, especialment en el dia d’avui, l’Estat espanyol ha suspès de facto l’autogovern de Catalunya (Over the past few hours and, especially today, the Spanish State has de facto suspended the self-government of Catalonia),” he stated.
“El que està vivint Catalunya no ho viu cap estat de la Unió Europea (What is happening in Catalonia does not happen in other members states of the European Union),” the president added. “No acceptarem un retorn a èpoques passades i no acceptarem que no ens permetin decidir les èpoques futures de llibertat i democràcia (We will not accept a return to the past and we will not allow them to decide our future of freedom and democracy).”
Powerhouse soccer team FC Barcelona also put out a statement, where they say the Spanish government impeded on the freedom of speech, the right to defend democracy, and the right to self-determination.
“FC Barcelona, in holding the utmost respect for its diverse body of members, will continue to support the will of the majority of Catalan people, and will do so in a civil, peaceful, and exemplary way,” the club noted.
Meanwhile, sport has not been immune to the conflict, as La Liga, the Spanish football league, declared FC Barcelona would be barred from participating if Catalonia were to declare its independence.
If independence were to push through, RCD Espanyol and Girona FC would also have to withdraw from the league. However, while football may be a passion for the Catalans, embracing their freedom is still the priority.
Bloomberg columnist Leonid Bershidsky penned an article earlier this week discussing secessionist movements. He mentioned the potential of armed combat and how it, typically, is the most effective method.
“Full secession is usually achieved through full-scale conflict,” Bershidsky explained. “In it, it’s best if the seceding region’s people can stand on their own two feet.”
He cites cases such as South Sudan, Eritrea, and Timor-Leste although, their battles lasted for decades.
For the Catalonia case, he believes armed combat would not be the answer, noting, “Catalan separatists don’t have the capacity or the desperation to take on the Spanish army, or even the Spanish police.”
He speculates nothing will change regardless of the vote. Which, given the static position the Spanish government has taken, the conclusion is very likely.
Nonetheless, the Catalans have attracted the eyes of the world with their continued push for freedom. In addition, contributed no less than by the Guardia Civil, the abusive methods employed to stop an exercise of democracy is raising eyebrows across the globe. Following the 2014 independence referendum in Scotland, those still eyeing an independent Scotland have also vowed their support for the Catalans, with Scottish newspaper The National distributing posters supporting the referendum.
The Catalonia issue has been around for decades and not much has been said of it until now. Today, the world is looking at both sides and, with everything that has transpired over the past week, it should be fairly apparent which side is operating out of pure desperation./WDJ