Contributed by Joe Montero
As voting day came in for the Catalan referendum on independence, thousands of people occupied polling stations that the Spanish government had vowed to close, with the paramilitary Civil Guard and National Police.
Many kept the vigil through the night and to the announced deadline of 6 am. Parents, teachers and students occupied schools.
Jordi Sánchez, president of the Catalan national assembly, which organises pro-independence rallies, said: “Not just the future of Catalonia but the future of democracy in Europe is at stake, that’s why the world is watching.”
Farmers have used tractors to guard polling stations in 30 Catalan towns. Firefighters turned up in uniform to assist voters and safeguard the ballots. The Barcelona soccer team wore the colours of Catalonia, to show their own support for the referendum. They were backed by team officials and fan clubs.
The Mossos d’Esquadra regional police force that had been taken over by Madrid only days ago, did not carry out the order to participate in the repression and id what it could to protect the voters.
The Civil Guard and National Police fired rubber bullets at voters in some place . Hundreds of injuries sand he numbers are rising. Batons have been used to try and disperse lines outside polling stations.
The Civil Guard took over telecommunications to stop people voting online and cutting links to polling stations, to hamper verification and counting of ballots. But it seems that in many cases, services were restored and where this wasn’t possible, this was done manually, with the use of available Census data. Many of the polls that had been closed, were opened again after the police left.
Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau calls Rajoy “a coward,” calling on him to resign and accusing him of violating fundamental rights.
Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias has responded by saying “Bumps, shoves, old women dragged. What the PP is doing to our democracy is repugnant to me. Corrupt, hypocritical, useless. Is this your ‘victory’ Mariano Rajoy?”
According to the Catalan regional government that despite the efforts of the Civil Guard, 96 percent of polling stations remained open.
A call for a general strike against the brutality is gaining momentum among unions.
The day before the ballot, the Falangists organised a rally in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol, to oppose the referendum and cal for the execution of independence leaders. The also organised a rally in Barcelona. These are the self-declared fascists that were behind the Franco dictatorship and are the only visible support for the government seen in the streets. Police said their were only between 250-300 in Madrid. There were even fewer in Barcelona.
In contrast, tens of thousands came to the Puerta del Dol, to raise their voices against “repression in our name,” after they heard about the attack in Catelunia. Among other slogans, they chanted that “Madrid will be the tomb of fascism”.
Whatever the outcome of the referendum, the Rajoy national government of Spain is not going to recognise it. That has been made clear. But there is not hiding from the reality that the repression has built up the numbers supporting the independence cause.
Ministers in Madrid, have been desperate to blame the violence on the voters and target the organisers for causing the crisis, by disobeying ad decision of the court. The point is that the law and courts in Spain trace back to the Franco dictatorship, are its creation and bound to opposing any move towards independence. In a legal sense, any change requires the cooperation of government.
Catalans wanting independence have been trying for dialogue for a long time and in the absense of a response, have found little choice but to precipitate action that will lift the momentum and force the situation.
In this respect, the referendum has been a good strategy. Coupled with the reaction from Madrid, it has changed the political landscape of Spain. The cause has been strengthened at home and won more supporters and the position of the Spanish government has been weakened. There are other regions seeking independence. They will be encouraged. Other than this, the political climate of the whole nation has been polarised even more, in a country where the political institutions and traditional political parties are already in low standing.
In the coming days, it is on the cards that measures will be taken to punish the Catalans, for this has already been threatened. But this will not win the day. It has gone too far and the Catalans will resist and fight back. The longer this goes, the more the support from across Spain is likely to grow.
Calls for the resignation of Rajoy are increasing. He and his government would fall very quickly, were it not for the defacto support for it coming from the opposition Socialist Workers Party. Its leaders suggest that they are not doing this, just abstaining from any vote. To many, an abstention amounts to the same thing as support this is going to deliver to them a significant political cost.
Despite the backstop of the socialists, there will have to be dialogue in the end. The momentum will not easily be stopped the higher the cost of not talking. You cannot force a population into something that is unwilling to comply with.
The greatest strength of the referendum is that it has been the people who have risen to defend it with the force of numbers. The whole world has seen this.
Police offensive launched against peaceful voters
Video from al Jazeera
Police attack voters
Video from The Independent
Firefighters attacked as they try to defend voters
Video from The Independent