Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard
10 days prior to the richest province of Spain’s referendum on independence, the central government began mass arrests of separatists…
In Europe a new “hot spot” ripens in the separatist region of Spain – Catalonia. This rich Spanish province, with its own language and culture, has tried to separate already for many years.
They say that they are tired of feeding all of Spain, and wants to decide on everything themselves, which for Madrid, of course, is unprofitable.
Events promptly escalated 10 days prior to the referendum on independence, which Madrid doesn’t recognize as lawful and demands its cancellation.
The Spanish authorities suddenly began a massive attack on Catalan separatists – with raids and detentions, which, according to experts, can cause even bigger resistance and can strengthen the desire of the region to separate.
On Catalan’s Maidan – “Down with the occupier!”
Tens of thousands of indignant supporters of independence have already come out on “Maidan” – on the streets of Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, shouting “Down with the occupier!” and “No Pasarán!” (“They shall not pass!” – a slogan from the times of the Spanish Civil war of the 1930’s). Rebels demand to immediately declare secession from Spain, without waiting for the referendum on October 1st.
The National Guard from all over Spain came to the “separatist” region. Security officers raided and searched the buildings of the local government, where more than ten officials were arrest, among who is the assistant to the vice-president of Catalonia Josep Maria Jove, and withdrew some of the ballot boxes. Websites promoting the referendum were closed, and Catalan accounts in State Banks were frozen so that there is nothing to carry it out with.
“If payments to State employees and pensioners stop, it will be even worse. These people will go to Madrid to protest, a revolution can break out,” said the Catalan journalist Raul Moreno to “Strana”.
Hundreds of mayors of the province’s cities are threatened with jail if they hold a vote on independence. And the central authorities intimidate using serious prison terms. According to Madrid’s “El Pais”, supporters of independence can be accused under the articles “revolt” and “conspiracy”, which can land them in jail for up to 30 years. But leaders of the cities don’t surrender.
The mayor of Barcelona of Ada Colau (earlier she opposed separation from Spain) wrote on twitter: “Searches in authorities and the arrest of officials is a real scandal for democracy. We will protect Catalan institutions”.
The escalation intensifies. The Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy promised to use “all necessary measures” to prevent the referendum. The Catalan authorities accused Madrid of repression and the actual introduction of a state of emergency.
The Vice-President of the province Oriol Junqueras stated that “nothing like this has happened in western democracies in decades”.
The supporters of independence were backed up by the well-known football club “Barcelona”.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) September 20, 2017
Catalans compare the Spanish government to the fascist regime of the dictator Franco. In 1939 he sent troops into the republican Barcelona, and forbade the language and symbols of Catalan. The same Franco is remembered in Madrid.
“Referendums are a weapon of choice of dictators, that’s something you don’t see in a democracy. General Franco conducted two referendums,” said lfonso Dastis, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain in an interview to Bloomberg. “These people actually are taking some Nazi attitudes because they are putting up posters with the faces of mayors who are resisting their call to participate in this charade”.
The terrorist attack stimulated the separatists
This is already Catalonia’s second attempt to become a separate State. In November, 2014, in a similar referendum 80% of Catalans (more than 2 million people from 2,250,000) voted for secession, but the constitutional court of Spain recognized the vote as “illegal”.
As some experts believe, the present referendum also would have taken place silently if not for Madrid’s attack, which angered even those Catalans who were indifferent or didn’t support the idea of secession.
“Moreover, in the summer opinion poll, 5% more than people (in July 49.4% of Catalans were against independence, and 41.1% – pro) were against secession from Spain,” said the journalist Moreno. “The economy of the State started becoming stronger after a serious crisis, Catalonia transferred payments, but also more and more injections came from the center (but anyway, Barcelona annually pays 5 billion euros more to the center than it receives)”.
Secession, however, began to be remembered less and less.
“Although some continued to think that an independent Catalonia will be even richer than under Spanish rule. But the question of independence again rose after a van attacked a crowd in Barcelona in August, then many accused the Spanish authorities of bad work in preventing acts of terrorism and in the fight against the flow of refugees, in which some see potential terrorists,” explained the journalist.
According to Moreno, when the central government saw that supporters of Catalonia’s independence again raised heads, they decided to act using methods of force.
“If not for these arrests and round-ups, the referendum could have taken place without legal consequences, like last time. People would vote, Madrid as usual wouldn’t recognize the results, and all would calm down. But such a reaction by the central government only angered Catalans. Even those who were against secession take to the streets and are ready to resist,” stated the journalist.
The further development of the situation is unpredictable. “If mass protests and riots start, the government will either allow the referendum to take place, or will opt for a forceful dispersal. And it threatens revolution and civil conflict,” predicts Moreno.
Basques and Galicians also will want to leave
Catalonia’s exit can seriously hit the economy of Spain, which annually receives from the donor-province more than €40 billion in taxes (about a third of the country’s GDP). But it’s not just about the money.
“Spain, in the event of Catalonia’s secession, is threatened by a split and a serious crisis. There can be a chain reaction among separatists in other provinces. Other regions also want to secede – Basques, Galicians can want it. Spaniards will rise in defense of the unity of the country, which can lead to armed conflicts,” believes the Spanish journalist Alfredo Ramirez.
According to Ramirez, the option to give Catalonia more self-governance should be considered in order to solve the conflict.
“But they decided to work more rigidly. And this is a mistake. It would be better to convince Catalans that it is more favorable to remain in Spain. After all, Catalonia is in Europe, and it is rich all the same. And having left the structure of Spain, the province faces an outflow of investments, and it won’t be in the European Union any more. An example that can be specified is Britain, with its ‘Brexit’, but it is unclear where this example will lead,” stated Ramirez.
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