Despatches from Catalonia

Last week I posted a guest post from Barcelona in the lead up to the Catalan Referendum.   Today I’m posting the following dispatch from the frontlines of the referendum struggle from a very different perspective, summing up the tumultuous events that have shaken Catalonia in the last few week, by my great friend and indefatigable independentista Andreu Jené:

Catalonia: The Revolution of Dignity

I begin this report from the electoral college in my neighbourhood, where about eighty of us have shut ourselves in  order to protect it during tomorrow’s referendum.  This may seem a little strange or ridiculous to British readers, but this  is actually happening in a country that calls itself a democratic member of the European Union.  At the request of the public prosecutor’s office,  the Supreme Court of the Justice of Catalonia has ordered all electoral colleges to close at 6 tomorrow morning in order to prevent the referendum on self-determination convoked some months ago by the Catalan government (Generalitat).

Hundreds of electoral colleges across Catalonia have been similarly occupied by peaceful protestors to prevent their closure,  and ensure that the vote takes place tomorrow.   Schools have been kept open since Friday evening in order to prevent them from being closed.

The last few weeks have been charged with high intensity.  The Spanish state has done everything possible to abort the referendum, from raiding printing shops without legal authority in search of papers and ballots to violating postal secrecy, by opening letters and confiscating magazines simply because they mentioned the referendum.  It has confiscated electoral papers, letters directed to members of electoral tables, electoral posters.

More than 150 websites have been closed – which fortunately were immediately reopened – in  addition to Google apps that gave information about which electoral colleges to vote at.  Police have tried to enter without authorisation the headquarters of a legal political party, the CUP ( Popular Unity Candidacy), and were only prevented by the rapid mobilisation of the people.  These police interventions reached a peak on  20 September,  when the Civil Guard arrested 14 officials and technicians from the Generalitat on charges of preparing the referendum.

Two of the arrests carried during this razzia (raid) were particularly serious.  In one case a woman was arrested in the street in front of her children as she was taking them to school.  The children had to be taken in a taxi without knowing who or why their mother had been arrested so violently.  In another incident, an official from the Generalitat was driving his car when a motorcycle and two cars blocked his path and seven or eight agents took him away,  as if were a narcotraficante or a terrorist.

All this was clearly intended to send a message.  In response to every  intervention the people have mobilised, protesting peacefully at printing shops with carnations. The arrests produced an immediate popular response. Outside the Department of the Economy, where some of the arrests took place, people began to gather in large numbers when they heard what was happening.  Within a few hours the centre of Barcelona was completely blocked by crowds calling the detainees to be set free.  Throughout this period,  popular pressure has continued to intensify. Everyday at 10 o’clock there was a cacerolada (pot-banging) and some two hundred people spent the night in front of the Supreme Court of Justice, before the detained officials were charged and released after making their declarations in handcuffs – something that very rarely happens.

In response the state brought in two Italian cruise ships and another from Tarragona to the port of Barcelona filled with police and Civil Guard from different parts of Spain.  This expeditionary force left its barracks fired up with shouts of ‘ Go for them!’ as if they were crusaders hunting infidels.

The demonstrations in solidarity with the detainees and the involvement of the whole of society have been the crucial determining factors in bringing together so many different sectors that have made the referendum possible.   Students have staged multiple demonstrations and occupied the University of Barcelona.  Firemen have helped with these demonstrations.  Longshoremen refused to supply the police cruise ships in the port.  Farmers used their tractors to slow traffic and cut roads.  Collectives of lawyers demonstrated against police legal irregularities.   Rural agents, teachers and taxi drivers offered to transport invalids or incapacitated people to polling stations.  Committees in Defense of the Referendum were organised by teachers, neighbourhood associations and political parties to protect the electoral colleges.

Now let me pick up the tale after the referendum.  The whole world has witnessed the barbarity of the Spanish police on their tv screens.   They behaved like lunatics, cynically attacking people whose only crime was their desire to vote.  They did this without any provocation or warning, beating old people and young on the waist, face and head, deliberately dislocating fingers, and in one case sexually assaulting girls by touching their breasts.  They fired rubber bullets (prohibited in Catalonia since 2014) at close range directly at the body.  Although we knew about the violent historical character of the Spanish state, we were not prepared for such savagery.

The police laughed at the pain of their victims and insulted them.  In addition to personal injuries, they vandalised the schools where the president, vicepresident and president of the Parliament of Catalonia  were going to vote.  Of course they didn’t do this in any school in the city of Badalona, where – what a coincidence! – the local Partido Popular MP intends to run again in 2019.

893 injured, one of whom may lose an eye – many more than the wounded during the August terrorist attacks – these awful  events have shocked many people, some of whom are still affected by the terrorist violence, and left us with a sense of  rage and generalised impotence.

It’s possible that Rajoy took this decision in order to see how far he could take the repression and measure what the response of the people would be.  The government has had the temerity to say that the  international consequences don’t matter much, when it comes to saving the sacred unity of the fatherland.  What is clear is that whether they wanted it or not, they have lost Catalonia forever.  Independence might come this month or in a few years, but the relationship between Catalonia and Spain will never be the same.  After this declaration of war,  no dialogue or pact is possible.  They have broken the cards.  .

And what about the EU?  A lukewarm condemnation of the violence and little more -  exactly what you would expect from a club of countries that allows thousands of people to die in the Mediterranean and sells human lives to an authoritarian state like Turkey.

For Catalans the only thing that remains to us now is to give some value to the referendum that we managed to organise admittedly in less than optimal conditions, but with a real determination to stand up to the barbarity and get round the obstacles that Spain placed in our path.   Only by declaring independence will we obtain protection from this fascist state,  even it goes badly for us in the first weeks.  Spain will never permit a negotiated referendum.  The EU says that we are an internal Spanish problem.  We could be trapped for decades in this loop.

Enough!  The people have spoken

Batons versus Ballots: On the Catalan Referendum

The ‘nationalism of small nations’ inevitably draws its emotional power from a sense of victimhood and a history of oppression — whether real or imagined. Watching the confiscations of ballot papers in Catalonia over the last week, I was reminded of the raid carried out by 300 Spanish Army officers on the Barcelona offices of the Catalan satirical magazine Cu-Cut! on 23 November 1905.  Outraged by a satirical cartoon lampooning the Spanish military, the officers trashed the magazine’s offices. The Spanish government, under pressure from the upper echelons of the army, banned the magazine for five months, then passed the Ley de Jurisdicciones (“Law of Jurisdictions”), which forbade any criticism of ‘Spain and its symbols’.

Some Catalan nationalists will remember that episode. Others will remember the ‘Reapers War’ of 1640-52, or the Nueva Planta decrees imposed on Catalonia by the Bourbon monarchy following the War of the Spanish Succession and the 1713-14 siege of Barcelona, which deprived Catalonia of the medieval charters and privileges it had enjoyed under the Crown of Aragon, and which set out to extinguish any trace of Catalanism — including the Catalan language itself. Some may recall the martyred general Josep Moragues i Mas, drawn and quartered in the streets of Barcelona by the Bourbons in 1715.

My piece on yesterday’s referendum for Ceasefire Magazine.  You can read the rest here

Spain Loads Up With Rubber Bullets

The epic struggle waged by the miners of Asturias to defend their jobs and communities has clearly struck a chord amongst many Spaniards, as the magnificent reception given by Madrileños  to the 400 km marchers clearly demonstrates.

The miners have also generated considerable support outside Spain.   Yesterday’s Channel 4 News had a special report from a reporter who accompanied the marchers from beginning to end.   Even the Telegraph had a reasonably sympathetic article on the clashes in Madrid yesterday, in which a trade unionist marching in solidarity with the miners declared ‘ This is a struggle for the working class. The people need to be here on the street to say ‘enough is enough.”

This sympathy is not hard to fathom.  At a time when the Spanish government, with the approval of the EU and the IMF,  is willing to wreck the lives of millions in order to bailout its corrupt and discredited banking system, it refuses to continue the subsidies on which the Asturian mines and their communities depend.

It’s not necessary to have a degree in political science or economics to understand the very clear message behind this discrepancy; that the powerful financial institutions that have brought Spain to the brink of ruin can be rescued and even rewarded for their efforts, while the mining communities of the mountains and valleys of Asturias are essentially disposable and not worth preserving.

The miners have fought – as Asturian miners always will – to defend their jobs and communities, and their struggle is beginning to have a galvanizing effect on the Spanish working class.  Its appearance on the streets of Madrid has clearly rattled the government.

On the same day that Mariano Rajoy announced yet another swathe of austerity measures that he described as ‘not pleasant…but imperative’ in order to please Spain’s foreign creditors,  riot police fired volleys of rubber bullets at the miners and their supporters.

All of which constitutes a disgrace, to be sure, but we can expect to see such behaviour repeated and intensified in the months and years to come.   Because in the end police truncheons and rubber bullets – and worse – are the logical and inevitable instruments of the gross injustice that is being perpetrated in Spain and across the continent.

The financial and political elites overseeing Europe’s age of austerity,  as they gaze down on the anthill world from their boardrooms and offices,  though one suspects that they probably do and are simply not too bothered about it.

The miners of Asturias have pricked this bubble of complacency, and forced Spain – and the world – to acknowledge them.   In a dark and corrupt era, when white collar  larceny on a truly monumental scale is compounded and facilitated by governments across the continent under the mantra of ‘there-is-no-alternative-to-austerity’,    their militancy, determination and commitment to their communities should be an inspiration to all of us, and a reminder that resistance is still possible – and in fact essential.