By Jason Michael

Early yesterday morning the Spanish military police launched yet another phase of Spain’s crackdown on Catalunya’s 1 October referendum, arresting state officials and raiding more government offices. No one is to blame for this but Mariano Rajoy.

“Guardia Civil police arrests Catalan Secretary General of Economic Ministry in big anti-referendum operation” is not the kind of headline we are used to in 2017 – certainly not from an EU member state. It was however breaking news from Catalan News first thing yesterday morning. Shortly after eight o’clock local time the Guardia Civil, Spain’s military police force, began an intensive operation involving raids on Catalan government offices and the arrest of a number of Catalunya’s civil servants and politicians. This is the latest phase in Spain’s anti-democratic approach to the wish of the people of Catalunya to hold an independence referendum on 1 October.

As the Guardia Civil progressed with its operation, demonstrators – from both sides of the independence debate – filled the streets to protest against what is clearly a violation of the autonomous region’s civil and political rights. Through the day the crowds grew, with activists and political leaders calling the people of Barcelona and other cities and towns out in defence of their democratic right to the referendum and against the oppressive measures being taken by the Spanish state. What is now unclear, as the situation worsens, is what will happen with Catalunya’s own police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra.

As it stands the Catalan government has 17 thousand armed police officers under its direct command; a force that is, at least in theory, answerable to the Catalan government and not the Spanish. Recently, while they were under the threat of arrest, the Mossos d’Esquadra – armed with semi-automatic weapons – guarded the Catalan mayors as they met with President Carles Puigdemont to show their support for the referendum. What is not known is how this police force will react in the event that Spain pushes its aggressive agenda much further.

With today’s arrests and the furtherance of the Spanish programme of the seizure of finances and communications Catalan autonomy has been effectively suspended, forcing a serious and volatile constitutional crisis. These are the conditions that have led to open revolt and violence in many part of the world before, and nothing – other than the remarkable sense of calm thus far – makes Catalunya any different. The entire situation is now hair-trigger, with many now airing their concern that with the least bit of provocation Spain’s crackdown will become physical. Hoping to understand what is happening a little better I reached out to Francesc Mortés, a Catalan pro-independence activist and a translator for Col·lectiu Emma – a media collective working to promote Catalunya’s independence campaign around the world.

Mortés is a level-headed professional in his 50s who describes himself as having worked for this moment all his life. He sees the dangers in what Spain has done and, aware of what has happened in the past in similar circumstances, is concerned that violence might be on the near horizon. “Spain will not allow this to happen,” he told me, “because Catalonia accounts for 20 per cent of the Spanish economy.” Spain will do whatever it takes to stop the 1 October referendum taking place because it knows a vote will render its current stance untenable in the face of the international community. He doesn’t believe, however, that there will be a popular uprising.

So far the Catalans have outdone themselves in how they have handled this referendum campaign. It has been good humoured, energetic, and peaceful – reflecting the nature of the people of Catalunya. But Spain’s hostility and recent repressive actions threaten to change all this. In social and political terms this is anything-can-happen Thursday.

The danger is, as Mortés and others see it, that, while the people may not respond to the suppression of the vote a week from Sunday, the Mossos d’Esquadra – or elements of it – might. Spanish courts will most likely issue orders for this force to stand down ahead of 1 October, but – being answerable to a Catalan government that has already suspended the Spanish constitution – it is not a given that the Catalan police will obey such orders. A move like this will only heighten tensions and create all the conditions for an insurrection, even a civil conflict.

If, in the aftermath of either the referendum or its cancellation, the situation escalates the European Union will have some very serious questions to answer.

No one in Catalunya or Spain wants this, but then we must remember that the initiative has always been that of the Spanish government. Spain’s parliament has rejected Rajoy’s government’s oppressive actions in Catalunya. His Partido Popular is a minority government. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has absolutely no democratic mandate for what he is doing, and what he is doing is using the military police to suppress democracy. As democracy is worth defending, people will defend their democracies. Rajoy has a choice to make; either he relents and allows this vote to go ahead or be responsible for the consequences. No one can be guilty of using force against force in the defence of democracy, and this is something the Spanish government is clearly having trouble understanding.

One way or another it would be unacceptable for this atrocious situation to descend any further than it has already done. When all the signs are there to see that this can get a whole lot worse, it is time the European Union stepped in. Both the people of the rest of Spain and the people of Catalunya are EU citizens and the EU has a responsibility here to protect them all from the dark outcomes of what Rajoy and his government are now pushing. If, in the aftermath of either the referendum or its cancellation, the situation escalates the European Union will have some very serious questions to answer.


Catalan Response to Spanish Crackdown

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