Tweet Follow @RPJblog
By Jason Michael
European democracy has been unmasked by the actions taken by Spain against the Catalan independence referendum, actions ignored and thus permitted by the European Union. This is where the fight for democracy really begins.
Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish Prime Minister, addressed Spain on national television last night to reassure the country that the state was secure and to thank the Guardia Civil for the job it had done in Catalunya. He also informed the Spanish people that there had been no referendum. Whatever it was the Catalan people were doing, it was not a legal vote and was therefore not binding. Yet so frightened was he of this nothing that he sanctioned the deployment of riot police to Barcelona and cities and towns all over the north-eastern autonomous community. We know what those riot divisions of the military police did. The world saw it all, live and online.
What we witnessed from the moment the polling stations opened was a military-style crackdown on unarmed Catalan civilians engaged in an “illegal” and “seditious” act of democracy. Officers in black helmets and body armour, armed with truncheons and firing baton rounds, smashed their way into schools, colleges, and other polling stations to seize ballot boxes and polling cards. Photographs and videos flew around the world of elderly women soaked in their own blood, young women being dragged by the hair and thrown down stairs, and children screaming in terror as their parents were being bludgeoned and knocked senseless.
By late morning we had seen a girl being removed from the chaos on a stretcher by paramedics, “unconscious and unresponsive,” and by late afternoon we were watching a man being resuscitated as Spanish police continued to beat first-aiders. Rajoy’s thugs were showing us the meaning of democracy in Spain while the Catalans, without raising so much as a fist in response, were showing us the meaning of freedom.
As the ferocity of Spain’s crackdown became apparent, Barcelona’s firefighters stepped out, forming lines between the vicious fascist police and the people. Even officers of the Catalan police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, disobeying their orders from Madrid, stood shoulder to shoulder with one another to protect the voters and polling stations. Almost 900 people were injured – some seriously – in the violence, and we can be sure that without the intervention of these Bomberos and Mossos this number would have been far greater.
In spite of the brutality and the violence being used against them, over three million Catalans – women and men, old and young – went out like lambs amidst wolves to vote, and vote they did. In every village, town, and city they put slips of paper in a box in polling stations protected throughout the previous night by volunteers singing songs. Churches, helping to hide the ballot boxes after the polls closed, opened up their doors in order that the votes could be counted. When they were counted – with a turnout of over 56 per cent and with some 770,000 votes captured by the Spanish police – over 90 per cent had voted for independence and the creation of a Catalan Republic.
Mr. Rajoy can be damn sure there was a referendum. Spanish nationalists and Scotland’s British nationalists – eager to keep the independence movement here at heel – have been repeating the chorus, “the vote was illegal – the police were in the right.” The Catalan government was expected to negotiate with the central government in Madrid, but they failed to do this. No talks have happened with Spain because such talks, according to the Spanish Constitution, are themselves illegal. Spain’s Constitution forbids constitutional change and talk of it is seditious. Catalunya – a nation with its own language and culture, where the majority do not wish to be part of Spain – had no legal alternative. Their “democracy” is Fordist in nature; they can have any colour they want so long as it’s black.
Any law limiting the power of democracy is illegal. In 1948, after the defeat of genocidal fascist totalitarianism in Europe, the United Nations was created and in its Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 21) our right to vote was enshrined in international law. No longer is the law determined by the state on behalf of the people. It is the people who determine both the state and the law. That’s democracy! But, of course, there are unionists who say that Catalunya is not a state. They are correct, yet, as a people and a nation, the Catalans – and only the Catalans – have the right to decide when and how they become an independent state.
All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
All armed action or repressive measures of all kinds directed against dependent peoples shall cease in order to enable them to exercise peacefully and freely their right to complete independence, and the integrity of their national territory shall be respected.
– UN Declaration on Self-Determination (1960), Sections 2 and 4.
Yesterday Catalan nationals exercised their right to vote on self-determination and the Spanish state, by using violent repressive measures against them, was in breach of international law and guilty of violating their fundamental human, civil, and political rights. As a member state of the European Union, and as a state party signatory to the Treaty of Lisbon (2009), Spain, by using force to suppress the rights and freedoms of its own citizens, faces suspension from the EU under the terms of Article 7 of the Treaty. Thus far, however, the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has effectively sided with Madrid in saying that this crackdown with its abuses and human rights violations – albeit discouraged – is an “internal matter.”
Juncker’s position, unless revised in short order, gives the green light for Spain to continue. Now that the leader of the Catalan Generalitat, President Carles Puigdemont, intends to declare independence within 48 hours, Spain – the constitution of which demands the use of the army in the protection of the state and its territorial unity – is free to up the ante. Having seen what Rajoy is capable of, it would be naïve to rule out an escalation in the crackdown in the coming days.
The Spanish government can insist that the state remains unshaken and point to its own law all it wants. The state has been shaken and the law means nothing. Legality is not concerned with justice, it is concerned with power. We would do well to remember, when so many of those supporting the crackdown are talking about legality, that many injustices have been legal. Slavery, Apartheid, and the Holocaust were all legal at times and places where the law failed to serve justice. By depriving Catalunya and Catalans of justice Spain’s law has become repugnant. It is void.
Spain has been shaken to its very foundations. Following the violence and injustice of the crackdown it is not likely Catalans will meekly back down. With Catalan police – an armed police force – at the point of being more forceful in its protection of Catalan civilians yesterday, this constitutional crisis was a hair’s breadth away from producing the sort of conditions from which civil wars begin. Rajoy can deny the legality and the validity of this referendum and its result all he wants, but with many Catalans now seething and with the threat of military action looming, Rajoy isn’t the one who gets to decide if a vote happened or not. What matters is that the Catalans believe it did and that the Catalan government is now ready to concretise and defend their decision.
Catalonia’s independence: 90% vote ‘Yes’ to break away from Spain
One thought on “Damn Right there was a Referendum”
Great work, JM.
How far will Spain be allowed to escalate thuggery and fascism before the EU issues a declaration of support for Catalunya? Have we learned nothing in the last 75 years? We all know the outcome of a rampant central government’s actions against smaller, peaceful nations; the history books, newsreels and cenotaphs are all the evidence we need to see the inevitable horrors of inaction against the perpetrators. The EU must be seen to be taking a firm stand against the type of brutality displayed by Spain against Catalunya, if not, the consequences will be bloodshed and I cannot think of a single person who would wish for this. (Having said that, I can actually think of some people, in Scotland, who would. They know who they are).
Catalunya has a long and glorious/inglorious history, they didn’t simply appear ‘last week’. They also have a long history of discontent with Spain, a Spain who refuse even to enter into civil negotiations with them. This state of affairs can never work. The time is right for Catalunya, the time has always been right, and there is no ‘right’ time for state-sponsored violence and brutality.
Over to you, EU
LikeLiked by 3 people