Spain’s King Felipe VI has spoken – that Catalan leaders have broken the laws of the state. He called their behaviour “irresponsible”, “lack of loyalty”, “disrespect to the powers of the state”, and risking the country’s economic stability. But the king didn’t say what a king should say – about police brutality and the need for a dialogue between the Spanish and Catalan governments.
By openly aligning and speaking on behalf of the Spanish government, instead of being neutral, or at least pretend to be neutral, King Felipe VI has essentially driven Catalonia – Spain’s richest region among the 17 autonomous regions – farther away from Spain. The king can’t ignore the fact that 893 people were injured during the independence referendum voting thanks to police brutality.
On Sunday, more than 2.2 million people reportedly voted in the referendum. The Catalan government, led by Catalonia’s President Carles Puigdemont, says the vote in support of independence was nearly 90%. However, turnout was relatively low at a reported 42%. But the violent police crackdown against the ballot had energized the secessionist camp.
Opinion polls conducted before the vote suggested only a minority of around 40% of residents in the region back independence. But what the majority wanted was a referendum to be held. And Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, in his eagerness to suppress the defiant Catalonia’s President Carles Puigdemont, had mistakenly sent in the police, igniting a real uprising instead.
If majority of the people of Catalonia weren’t interested in independence before the vote and violent police crackdown, well, they are now. The violencedemonstrated by police that saw officers armed in riot-gear stormed polling stations, fired rubber bullets and pulled women by their hair does not gel well with true democracy claimed by Spain’s King Felipe VI.
In his first interview since Sunday’s referendum, Carles Puigdemont said his government would “act at the end of this week or the beginning of next” – suggesting he will declare the Independence of Catalonia within days. And thanks to how the incompetent and arrogant Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy handled the referendum – thousands of people – have taken to the streets.
While Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has said the vote made a “mockery” of democracy, he is alone in this matter as the European Commission refuses to interfere, declaring that the Catalonia was an internal issue for Spain. And there’re good reasons for the Spanish government and King Felipe VI to be terrified of the consequences of the screw-up the police had done.
The problem has now spread to the entire region of Catalonia. In Barcelona alone, 700,000 people took to the streets to protest against the Spanish Government’s decision to ignore the results of the independence referendum in Catalonia. The Spaniards are marching on the streets against “the grave violation of rights and freedoms”.
As a result of the mass uprising, Barcelona’s metro traffic was cut to a 25% service during rush hour and no trains at all at other times. Barcelona’s port was at a standstill, while top tourist attractions were also closed, including the city’s famous Sagrada Familia church. Barcelona’s massive wholesale market – Mercabarna – was left deserted as some 770 food businesses closed for the day.
A large number of pro-separatist trade unions, businesses, schools, transport networks and cultural institutions – even the region’s successful soccer team FC Barcelona – are expected to stay closed. Rubbing salt into injury, Catalonia accounts for around 20% of Spain’s entire gross domestic product (GDP) and a quarter of its exports.
An estimated 16% of Spain’s population live in Catalonia. In terms of trade, 25.6% of Spain’s exports come from Catalonia. More importantly, 20.7% of foreign investment in Spain goes to this region which Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had just sent the police to brutalize. In fact, it was Catalonia’s economic prowess that had helped Madrid recovered from the devastating 2008 economic crisis.
Therefore, Catalonia isn’t a small potato that Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy thought he could bully and insult using a violent crackdown, if the strike is observed by a large number of Catalonia’s 7.5 million populations. That’s why Spain’s King Felipe VI has equally screwed up by not calling for a dialogue but instead played politics and backed Rajoy administration.
Sure, the Spanish government in Madrid had argued that a vote for independence would be illegal, as the Spain’s Constitutional Court prohibited the ballot because it contravened the country’s 1978 constitution which bars breaking up the country. But it was the same Spanish court that struck down – after approved – 14 parts out of a popular 223-Article 2006 referendum that gave Catalonia more autonomy.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has claimed the referendum was illegal. If that was true, there was no reason to launch a brutal crackdown on Sunday’s vote, let alone seizing ballot boxes. Just let Catalonia cast the votes since the whole process was illegal anyway. After all, the Spanish government said there’s zero chance that an independent nation will emerge from the ballot.
Even Mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau said that even though she wasn’t pro-independence, the Catalan people deserved to have a vote on the matter. Hinting that Rajoy administration should be fired, she said – “What we need is a democratic response. And we need a political solution. And we need an inclusive solution that listens to the cries of millions of people.”
Now that Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has said he would unilaterally declare the independence of Catalonia, the world is watching if Mariano Rajoy would try to seize powers back from the Catalan government through force, again, plunging Spain into a further constitutional crisis and inflame the situation further.
Already irritated and insulted that pledges of increased autonomy for Catalonia was watered down, including privileging the Catalan language over Spanish, the frustrated Catalans are now more determined to get out of Spain, after Catalan culture was suppressed in the mid-20th century under a military government run by Francisco Franco.
Catalonians were required to speak a different language, and parents were required to name their children Spanish names. Their dignity this time, however, is being challenged after the latest police beatings. Spain might be days away from losing a cash cow which makes US$263 billion a year – similar to the economies of Finland and Portugal.
MEANWHILE, according to The New York Times & AFP:
Catalonia will declare independence from Spain on Monday, according to government officials in the region.
A declaration should follow this vote, although it is unclear when.
The regional government staged last Sunday’s referendum in defiance of a Constitutional Court ruling that the vote violated Spain’s 1978 constitution, which states the country is indivisible.
Afterdefyingthe Madrid government, separatistsin Cataloniaface the taskof turninga contestedvote intoreality https://t.co/RxnU7JfDzF
— The New York Times (@nytimes) 2 octobre 2017
What happened in the vote?
Participants – only about 43% of eligible voters – opted overwhelmingly for independence.
The result was expected as many of those who back remaining part of Spain boycotted the referendum.
Opinion polls conducted before the vote suggested a minority of 40% of residents in the region backed independence.
— AFP news agency(@AFP) 1 octobre 2017
What is the atmosphere like?
Spain has been rocked by the independence referendum in Catalonia and the police response to it.
Batons and rubber bullets were used to prevent people voting. The sight of hundreds of people being injured
prompted international condemnation.
Catalans came out onto the streets on Tuesday to condemn the police action.
There is concern the unrest will intensify in the region, that makes up one-fifth of the Spanish economy.
What has the Catalan president said?
That his government will ask the region’s parliament to declare independence after tallying votes from last weekend’s referendum, which Madrid maintains was illegal.
“This will probably finish once we get all the votes in from abroad at the end of the week and, therefore, we shall probably act over the weekend or early next week,” Carles Puigdemont said in remarks published on Wednesday.
He is due to make a statement at 9pm on Wednesday after an all-party committee of the region’s parliament meets to agree a date – likely to be Monday – for a plenary session on independence.