Catalan referendum heading for a showdown

Contributed by Joe Montero

As Catalonia closes in on the independence referendum on 1 October, Spain’s Central government steps up its efforts to stop the vote going ahead by bolstering the 4,000 already there with thousands more of the paramilitary Guardia Civil (Civil Guard),  in order to block polling stations and grab the ballots.

More than 1million posters, fliers, and pamphlets calling for a “Yes” vote have been confiscated. Pro-independence websites have been blocked. Fourteen officials have already been arrested and  Hundreds of Catalan mayors have been threatened with the same.

Falangist groups are mobilising their people to go to Catalonia, to stop people voting. These declared fascists were the backbone of the 30-year Franco dictatorship and today they see the Catalan push for independence as an affront to their concept of Spanish greatness.

The Popular Party, which which holds the reins of government in Madrid, was itself born out of the remnants of the Falangist movement, which adapted itself to a new political reality. But as it  stumbles into one crisis after another and the old way of thinking begins to re-assert itself, the Falangists are coming out of the woodwork and increasing their activity, including the systematic picketing of events, organised by the anti-Austerity party Podemos. Their special attention is now being turned towards Catalonia and they are mobilising to descend there to put a stop to when they see as a threat to their version of a greater Spain.

At the very least, Madrid is lending a blind eye to this and it is suspected that it sees this as an opportunity to ignite violence, as a weapon to use as a justification for its method of intervention.

The iron fisted reaction is polarising Spain. Solidarity protests took place in nearby Basque country, which is also seeking its independence. A huge rally is expected tomorrow (30 September). Through the rest of the country, critics are branding Prime Minister Rajoy as acting like Franco.

The developing crisis is attracting international attention. Rajoy has got the backing of US President Donald Trump.  Julian Assange and Edward Snowden are giving their support to the Catalans. So has the Scottish Nationalist Party. The Danish government has called for dialogue for a democratic resolution.

For the European union, the conflict threatens to impact provide fuel for other independence movements within its boundaries. It is sitting on the sidelines for now.

The iron fisted approach “won’t stop the independence movement,” journalist Francesc-Marc Álvaro wrote in La Vanguardia on September 21 — to the contrary. “A large majority [of Catalans] have stopped being afraid,” he said. “Rajoy should know that the concept of Spain that he wishes to maintain by dint of prohibitions, suspensions, disbarments, fines, raids, and pressure is damaged goods in Catalonia.”

Meanwhile, Spain’s Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) has compromised its position by having already reached a deal with the Popular Party and Ciudadanos, (born as an anti-independence party) to maintain a unified front against the referendum. This is likely to cost it dearly in political terms, as the crisis escalates and the Socialists image as the main protectors of the Popular Party government firms up even more than it has already.

If the Catalans get to vote, it is expected that the majority will go for independence. But whether it goes ahead or not, the scenario is set for a further wave of punitive measures, bringing further arrests policing and even political parties being declared illegal an even an escalation of state violence. After all, this is how the aspirations of the Basques have been treated.

But the more of this that there is, the stronger will the push for independence be. Franco tried to put a stop to it with executions, prisons, the banning of the Catalan language and culture. It did not work then and it is not going to work now.



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