Spanish Violence and Threats Before Puigdemont’s Possible Catalan Independence Declaration on October 10th
On the morning of Tuesday October 10th, the day Carles Puigdemont was expected to declare independence, I made a video about the general level of violence, threats and repression being perpetrated by the Spanish state in Catalonia.
According to the Referendum Law passed on September 6th and the referendum results, Puigdemont was expected to declare independence from Spain. The Spanish government was putting on the pressure in case this happened and it was looking increasingly likely that it would invoke Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution that would effectively remove the Catalan government from power.
Nobody in Catalonia had really been surprised by the police violence on October 1st, but given the level of brutality, the Catalan position was that an international arbiter should intervene. Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union, which is an EU infringement procedure to be used against member countries that have committed fundamental rights violations, states in 7.1 that the Council can give a formal warning to any country accused of violating fundamental rights and if this doesn’t have the desired effect, Article 7.2 would impose sanctions and suspend voting rights.
It was clear from the pictures and videos that fundamental rights had been violated. There had been pictures of old ladies getting dragged by the police and having their faces bloodied. Excessive violence was used by police as they attacked voters outside polling stations to such an extent that it looked like the police were enjoying themselves. There were so many clips of them baton charging peaceful voters with their open palms raised in a sign of surrender that it was clear that they had been ordered to behave as aggressively as possible. They raided polling stations and took away ballot boxes as voters looked on chanting “Som gent de pau.” (We are people of peace.) More pictures of bloodied voters, the effects of rubber bullets on peoples bodies were appalling leaving massive circular bruises.
One of the most shown clips was of people in a school sitting on the stairs and in the hallway. Police were picking up people and manhandling them as if they were rag dolls. In another clip a bloodied man is being escorted across a square by a friend as the armoured and helmeted police look on. The friend obviously says something about the level of violence and four or five police officers attack him with their batons and beat him to the ground. This goes way beyond what any professional police force would do. In another video, a Guardia Civil car actually swerves and tries to hit voters.
There were a total of at least 365 videos showing police violence but amazingly the Spanish media were claiming it was fake news and some international outlets were believing them. This had led some of my expat friends in other parts of Spain to claim that the Catalans had made the story up to try and trick the foreign media.
The levels of police brutality should be no surprise as the Spanish police have close connections with the Spanish far right, who are not only Spanish nationalists but look back on Franco’s dictatorship as a golden era. Following the unionist demonstration in Barcelona, Spanish national police officers were seen with extremist elements in the h3 bar next to the main Barcelona police station on Via Laietana. They were caught on camera shouting “sieg heil” and making Nazi salutes.
I had been fair in the video I made on the day, admitting that I disagreed with Spanish unionists but accepted their right to hold a differing opinion. I certainly didn’t think most of them were fascists, which is a term that is thrown around too lightly these days anyway.
However, the behaviour of the Spanish government, the Spanish police and a small but significant minority of demonstrators definitely showed signs of authoritarian and totalitarian attitudes. A large part of this is comprised of hating everything Catalan.
There were plenty of clips of demonstrators doing Nazi salutes outside the police station on Via Laietana with the police calmly looking on. Some of them were actually smiling about it. There is something fundamentally wrong with a country where openly supporting Nazism is OK but voting is illegal, which is precisely why Catalonia wants to leave.
Another interesting image from Sunday was members of the Spanish military, dressed in uniform, marching in the demonstration alongside the civilian protesters against Catalan independence in favour of Spanish unity. Whatever privately held beliefs members of the Spanish police and military might have, and it doesn’t surprise me at all that they are patriotic Spanish, surely it is inappropriate for them to express political opinions when dressed in uniform. Their job is to be bystanders protecting the public rather than being on one side or the other.
This was why international mediation was necessary and Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union needed to be triggered.
There were also violent altercations on Sunday. One of the videos I came across was of a journalist being attacked by a gang of Spanish nationalist hooligans in the Barcelona neighbourhood of Guinardó. Similarly, in València, where a very large minority of the population speak Catalan, there was a demonstration in support of Catalan independence. The reaction of the Spanish-speaking majority was predictable. There were counter demonstrations with fascist salutes as they sang the Spanish national anthem and anti-Catalan chants. Later in the day pro-referendum demonstrators were violently attacked by gangs of Spanish nationalist thugs as they made there way home from their own demonstration.
None of this was at all surprising given the attitude of the Spanish government, who on the same day began replacing Catalan Mossos d’Esquadra with Spanish National Police. One of these was the Catalan High Court, the Tribunal Superior de Justicia de Catalunya, whose headquarters are on Passeig Lluís Companys, close to the Parc de la Ciutadella and the Catalan Parliament. According to the Statute of Autonomy, the Catalan Judiciary should be policed by the Mossos d’Esquadra. However, on Monday October 9th, Spanish National Police appeared at the courtrooms and began patrolling.
This was ominous because given the political climate, it suggested that the Spanish government expected Carles Puigdemont to make a declaration of independence on Tuesday October 10th, which would lead to the invocation of Article 155, arrests of prominent political figures being made and the Catalan High Court being put to use. Furthermore, buy taking over the Catalan judiciary, the Spanish authorities would be able to act against regular citizens without fear of being brought before the justice system.
All this came across very clearly in the press conference given by Pablo Casado, the spokesperson of the Partido Popular, who said “We saw that on October 6th, the 83rd anniversary of Company’s Declaration of Independence passed by unnoticed. I believe history shouldn’t be repeated, and let’s hope tomorrow nothing will be declared, because maybe the one who declares it will end up like the one will end up like the one who declared it 83 years ago.”
This provoked a responses from Julian Assange which said “EU silence has now led to this: Spain’s ruling political party just made a barely veiled threat to have Catalonia’s current president shot.” The exchange refers to Catalan president Lluís Companys, who declared independence for Catalonia in 1934 and was arrested and imprisoned as a result. He was released after the Popular Front came to power in 1936 and was president of Catalonia throughout the Spanish Civil War. After Franco’s victory, Companys fled to France, where he was captured by the Gestapo, returned to Spain and executed by firing squad on Montjuïc in Barcelona on October 15th 1940.
The statement makes it clear that the Partido Poular are in fact Franco’s heirs. The fact that they make allusions to crimes committed during the dictatorship is really frightening and only served to emphasises the need for external mediation.
If Carles Puigdemont made a Declaration of Independence, as expected, then the shit would really hit the fan. Article 155 would be invoked anf the Spanish authorities would use whatever force necessary to put it into practice. This was worrying for CAtalonia, worrying for Spanish democracy and made the European Union look like an ineffectual bunch of hypocrites.