Demos in Catalonia after Spanish Civil Guard Arrest 14 Members of Catalan Govt on Sep 20th
This is another post looking back on the events of September in Catalonia in the run-up to the referendum on independence from Spain on October 1st. Here I discuss what happened on September 20th when the Spanish Civil Guard raided the Catalan Treasury and other Generalitat offices and arrested 14 members of staff, the most important of whom were the secretaries of Economy and the Treasury, Pere Aragonés and Lluís Salvadó.
As a result of the arrests, from about 11 o’clock in the morning, thousands of people gathered outside the Catalan Treasury offices on the corner of Gran Via and Rambla de Catalunya. The massive demonstration blocked Barcelona city centre and the protests were replicated in towns all across Catalonia.
The pro-independence press described the raids as a coup d’etat and a show of force by the Spanish government. Then later in the day, at 10 pm, the cassolades or saucepan protests began and the whole population of Barcelona and the rest of Catalonia came out onto the balconies to bang saucepans in protest against the arrests. I was out on the balcony each with a saucepan and a wooden spoon making as much noise as we could and shouting “In-inde-independència!”. The racket that the thousands of people make is truly belittling and I’m sure the tourists, who were walking around the streets where we live in central Barcelona, thought we’d gone completely nuts.
The cassolades are another reason why I admire the Catalans so much. They are a peaceful way of making your voice heard and are very much in tune with the creative style of the massive street protests in favour of Catalan independence that have been organised over the last few years. The way they take the streets in a civilised civic manner is both impressive and admirable.
However, the show of force by the Spanish government made me doubt whether the referendum would go ahead or not and reminded me of the Catalan expression “No diguis blat fins que està al sac i ben lligat”, which literally translates as “Don’t call it corn until it’s in the sack and properly tied” and is the equivalent of “Don’t count your chickens until they’re hatched”.
The objective of the raids was not only to stop the financing of the referendum but also to instil an atmosphere of fear. There were still ten days to go and it was clear that the Spanish government was capable of a lot more. The Spanish argument was that the referendum was unconstitutional and therefore illegal and as they had already shown, they were prepared to use the National Police and the Civil Guard, and possibly the Army, as and when they considered necessary.
The Catalan Mossos d’Esquadra were in the difficult position of being directly employed by the Generalitat but ultimately responsible to the Spanish government. It was their job to keep the peace and the Spanish authorities were bound to hold them to that.
At the time, I thought that by hook or by crook some kind of referendum would go ahead but it certainly wouldn’t take place under normal circumstances. Around 80% of Catalans wanted a referendum and much more than 50% of those who turned out would vote in favour of independence so the Catalans would claim victory. However, given the strange circumstances, it was obvious that the Spanish authorities wouldn’t accept the result.
I had been saying for some time that ultimately there would be no other option the a Unilateral Declaration of Independence so everything would depend on whether the Catalan politicians, most notably President Puigdemont, had the guts to go through with it.
The Catalans’ reaction to the Spanish police raids was clear. Thousands of people were out on the streets and Julian Assange tweeted out “Spain lost Catalonia today”. I wasn’t sure whether this was completely true. It was definitely the day when the confrontation between Catalonia and Spain stepped up a gear.
I felt at the time that if Catalonia’s push for independence was successful, September 19th 2017 would be be remembered as a turning point when the Spanish authorities overstepped the mark but on the other hand, if the Catalonia didn’t gain independence it would be seen as a black day in history, which would probably have consequences.
To say that Spain had lost Catalonia that day was something of an exaggeration. I think that Spain began losing Catalonia in the days after the first big Diada rally on September 11th 2012, when the Catalan independence movement hadn’t yet coalesced into something stable. Had Marian Rajoy reacted positively to Catalan complaints when Artur Mas visited him in Madrid, the pro-independence bubble could well have burst and everything would have been business as usual.
There had been many ups and downs in the previous five years but we were about to reach the climax to the independence process. I still didn’t really know what was going to happen. I didn’t have the blind faith of many of my Catalan friends perhaps because, as a foreigner, it was a little easier for me to remain objective.
- For future reference here is the account of the day from La Vanguardia: Cronología del 20-S, el día en que se ha acelerado la crisis catalana