Violence at the Hands of Police in Catalonia Over Referendum Vote

By Ellie Kreidie

Spain is in the midst of a constitutional crisis. On October 1, 2017, the region of Spain known as Catalonia voted on an independence referendum. According to the Government of Catalonia, in a 91.96 percent to 8.04 percent decision, the people of Catalonia, or the 42.58 percent who turned out to vote, voted to leave the Spanish union. But that vote doesn’t necessarily mean that Catalonia has now left the Spanish nation indefinitely, it has just brought the generations long conflict of Catalonian independence further into chaos for the financially struggling nation.

Several Drew students interviewed asked, “what even is Catalonia?” The history of Catalonia is complicated. Always somewhat different from the rest of Spain in language, culture and political views, it has spurred generations of Catalans to  fight for the return of their universally-recognized homeland. Walking through Barcelona, the major city of Catalonia, one sees more Catalan flags than Spanish ones. All signs are in both Spanish and the native Catalan language.

CNN reported that on September 6, 2017 the referendum was approved by the Catalonian parliament, although it had been in the works for much longer, and a law that states that a simple majority of the referendum vote would cause Catalonia to be independent. The following day on September 7, the Constitutional Court of Spain ruled that the decision made by the Catalonian parliament was unconstitutional and suspended the vote. The Catalan government, however, claimed that the suspension was not valid and so the vote went ahead as planned for October 1.

In response to this decision the Spanish government sent the National Police Corps and Guardia Civil to intervene at polling stations. This intervention soon turned violent with police forcibly removing people from polling stations and shooting rubber bullets into crowds, among other things. According to the Catalan Health Ministry, 893 people were injured in Catalonia on the day of the vote. Videos circulated over all forms of social media of the events and people quickly renounced the violent response of the police and Spanish government. Even amid this controversy, King Felipe and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy declared the vote unconstitutional, justified the government’s response and blamed the Catalonian government for forcing lies of the legitimacy on the Catalonian people.

Regardless of their stances on the actual issue of independence, the next day world leaders expressed their disappointment in Spain’s handling of the conflict. “Regardless of views on independence, we should all condemn the scenes being witnessed and call on Spain to change course before someone is seriously hurt,” said Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon.

The Mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, made a speech on the streets of Barcelona on the day of the vote as well as making a lengthy statement on Twitter and Facebook. “If what I am writing manages to cross international borders, if people outside Catalunya read it and want to know what is happening here, I would respectfully ask them to analyze this conflict with an open mind. I would dare them to question what is being said by the government spokespeople, what is being denied and, even worse, what is being justified,” wrote Colau about the situation. She continued, “What has happened today violates the rights and freedoms of all of us: Catalans, Spaniards, Europeans. Today it is Catalunya, but tomorrow it may be anywhere if we accept this and it goes unpunished. If we justify it, we are lost. Everyone loses. Democracy loses.”

Image courtesy of BBC

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