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By Jason Michael

While the Spanish government cracks down on the Catalan government over the October 1 independence referendum, the Catalan people have sprung into action. They are determined not to take this insult from Madrid lying down.

It says a great deal about our often prejudiced cultural assumptions, but there is something truly and deeply shocking about the headlines coming from Barcelona. We do not expect to read of military crackdowns and the suppression of democracy in western, supposedly democratic, developed nations. These things – we have been conditioned to think – belong to the so-called tin pot republics south of the equator, and yet today this is exactly what we are seeing in the behaviour of the Spanish state towards to the people of Catalunya over the head of a vote.

The autonomous government of Catalunya sanctioned, by democratic consent, a referendum to be held on October 1 on the question of Catalan independence. Spain has refused to accept this decision and, in spite of the Madrid parliament refusing to support it, has gone ahead with a series of repressive police actions and the deployment of military hardware that amounts to a crackdown. Government offices have been raided by the Guardia Civil – Spain’s military police force, print offices have been searched, posters and leaflets have been seized, and mail has been intercepted. This should not be happening in a modern European country, but it is.

People across Catalunya, both those for and against independence, are outraged by these atrocious developments and are calling them out for what they are – a naked assault by the Spanish government on their civil, political, and human rights. With fears now mounting that the Spanish authorities will soon follow through on their threat to arrest Catalunya’s political leaders, the people have taken matters into their own hands. Non-violent as ever the Catalan independence supporters have taken it upon themselves to promote the referendum, wearing slogan t-shirts, printing information on tote bags, and – while the postal service Correos is refusing to deliver referendum related mail, fly-posting information over its mail vans and offices.

One butcher in Barcelona took it upon him or herself to write up a hilarious referendum special offers list on their shopfront blackboard with the specials forming an acrostic spelling out the word “referendum.” Their government might be under an unofficial state of siege, but this has only spurred ordinary people into action. Where there is a will, it seems, there is a way.

Democracy – and it is difficult to accept that in 2017 we still find ourselves having to explain this – is all about the will of the people over the ambitions of those in and behind government. The Partido Popular, the ruling party in Madrid, is a minority government that now no longer has the support of Congress for the actions it is carrying out against Catalunya. In reality what we have is a western government using military-style measures with a military police force against an apparently “illegal” act of democracy without the consent of its own parliament. There simply is no space in any definition of democracy in which the Spanish government can now fit.

Spain’s fundamentally repressive actions against democracy, basic human freedoms and rights are issues the European Union must now seriously consider. By its own charter and high principles, the EU is no place for fascist dictatorships and repressive regimes. Right now, so far as I understand European democracy, Spain belongs in the European Union as much as a loaded gun belongs in a playground. Why the European Union has not spoken out against Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his government remains a mystery. These actions, if unchecked, will set a dangerous precedent for every other member of the EU to follow.

Yet regardless of these disturbing realities the Catalans themselves are in a buoyant mood. There are fears, of course, that the crackdown will intensify and that military intervention is an increasing possibility, but they do not have long to go until the referendum. In eleven days they will go to the polls. Spain’s measures, in the autonomous region – a nation in its own right, are doing nothing for the Catalan No campaign, with many previously undecided voters now moving to the independence camp as a result of what they see as unnecessary heavy-handedness.

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Catalan pro-independence mayors defy Spanish government


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