Why I Thought The General Strike on Oct 3rd Made Catalonia’s Independence from Spain Inevitable
I am continuing with the rough transcriptions of the videos I made throughout the month of October. In this one, recorded the day after the General Strike against police brutality on October 3rd, I discuss why at the time I thought that another peaceful show of unity had made independence almost inevitable. How wrong I was.
In the afternoon, the masses had really come out onto the streets and the Guardia Urbana estimated that 700,000 people had been out in Barcelona. What was even more amazing was that people had come out onto the streets of every town and village in Catalonia. The TV3 headline read “Civic tide: demonstrations around Catalonia against police repression”.
Girona, Lleida and even Tarragona, where there tends to be less support for independence, were packed with people. In the small town of Berga with a population of only 15,000 people, hundreds came out. Mainly Spanish-speaking Badalona was full of people. The scenes in historic Manresa were incredible. Sabadell, Gelida, Viladecans even Bisbal de l’Empordà came out.
By now, the preliminary referendum results were out. At that stage, 2, 262, 424 votes were cast in the referendum with 90% of those who voted voting in favour of independence. However, the Generalitat calculated that 770,000 votes were not cast either because ballot boxes were taken away by police or because polling stations were closed meaning people were unable to vote. This figure puts the number of people who up to over 57% of a 5.3 million census.
There had been criticism that a vote of 90% in favour of independence wasn’t credible. However, the figure can be explained by the fact that most people who were clearly against independence simply boycotted the referendum.
I replayed some of the scenes of violence from referendum day. In one scene, set outside a school in a country village, a crowd of local residents of all ages and both sexes stand outside the polling station with their arms raised and palms open in a gesture of non-violence as over 50 armoured and helmeted Spanish police come marching down the country road. The police break into a run and go directly into the crowd, batons flailing. People are kicked to ground and as the rest of the group retreats, the police charge into them.
In another, a crowd stands with their arms raised as they face off a line of black.clad helmeted police. All of a sudden, one of the policemen starts hitting an elderly man in the head with his truncheon presumably for something he said. Then all hell breaks lose and the police begin attack anyone standing in the front line with their batons. They hit downwards into the faces and onto the heads of the defenceless people. The camera pans out to a man in spasms, having a heart attack or an epileptic fit on the ground. Whether you believe the referendum was legal or not, there is simply no justification for this level of unprovoked violence.
In a third clip, police are using crowbars to smash in the glass doors of the school in the village of Sant Julià de Ramis, where Catalan president Carles Puigdemont was set to vote. The voters are inside and the police tactics are obviously designed to provoke as much fear as possible.
The result of all this was that hundreds of thousands if not millions of people came out onto the streets of Catalonia to demonstrate against police brutality. There were even Spanish rojigualdas amongst the Catalan senyeras and esteladas. Not everyone supported Catalan independence but everyone opposed the police violence.
If felt that the General Strike was more important than the referendum itself because the Catalan people showed themselves to be united and incredibly peaceful once again despite the police provocation two days earlier. I had been out throughout the whole day and I didn’t see a single unpleasant incident. The Catalans behaved as the Catalan always do.
Unfortunately, Spain seemed incapable of taking any notice of the Catalan people. On the evening of the strike, Spain’s King Felipe VI came on television and made a statement completely in favour of the Spanish government. He accused the Generalitat of “inadmissible disloyalty” and of “dividing Catalan society”. He went on to say that Spain and Catalonia were “living very grave moments”.
What he really should have done is make a call to dialogue between the two sides because it’s pretty clear that, when three million out of a census of 5.3 million and their children, who were unable to vote, want to be allowed to vote on independence, we have a problem.
The problem with the Spanish government and now the Spanish monarchy is that they just seem to hide their heads in the sand. This attitude combined with the police violence was having the effect of uniting the Catalan people and it seemed clear that as time went on more people supported Catalan independence.
The other important interview that evening was Carles Puidemont speaking to the BBC, who announced that his government would declare independence 48 hours after all the results had been counted, which would probably when all the votes had arrived from abroad at the end of the week. So the declaration was planned for early the following week.
“We would always have liked this process to have been driven by dialogue. There wouldn’t have been the police violence but, in any case, we decided some time ago, that it would be the Catalans who should decide. No people should accept a status quo it doesn’t want, against its will though force and beatings and this can only be resolved with democracy. There are people who interpret the Constitution like the Bible, that it contains absolute truths, that it’s more important than the will of the people. It’s obvious that we form part of Spain but we can and have the right to create our own state. And there’s a very clear popular desire, which I don’t think anyone disputes anymore, for us to decide our own future. How can we explain to the world that Europe is a paradise of democracy if we hit old women that have done nothing wrong. This is not acceptable. We haven’t seen such a disproportionate and brutal use of force since the death of the dictator Franco. After each mistake, we have become stronger. Today we are closer to independence than we were a month ago. Each week after every mistake we’ve gained more support from society, a bigger majority in Catalonia who do not accept this situation. So a more clear cut error like taking over our administration or arresting members of our government, including me, this could be the ultimate mistake.”
So it was pretty clear after the previous day’s general strike and show of strength by the Catalan people that if the Spanish government suspend the Catalan government or arrest any of its members, they’re going to have a revolution on their hands. I believed that sooner or later the international community would have to mediate.
I had supported Catalan independence since the Spanish Constitutional Court thew out Catalonia’s reformed 2006 Statute of Autonomy in 2010. Up until that point, I’d just loved the place. When that happened it was clear that there was no possibility of having any dialogue with Spain. All the reasonable things the Catalans were asking for just met with rejection. That’s why people like me and the people on the streets yesterday finally came out and decided they were in favour of independence.
As Carles Puigdemont said, every time they showed a lack of willingness to talk about this, the Spanish government just made things worse. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had said that Spanish police behaviour was reasonable and proportionate. The King had said that Puigdemont’s government was dividing the Catalan people but the crowds out on general strike day didn’t look very divided to me.
I believed that Catalonia had taken a definitive step towards independence from Spain the previous day.