Spain crisis: Catalonia firm on independence!

-Dr. Abdul Ruff

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The Catalan question has been boiling for 150-200 years. The referendum held on October 01 validated the popular urge for independence and notwithstanding the fact that  only less than 50% of the Catalans participated in the referendum owning the interference form Madrid, the opinion making exercise  an achievement.  It’s a no-go, red line for the Spanish right.

The 5.3 million registered voters of Catalonia, the north-east region Spain voted on October 1 on whether or not to declare a republic and separate from the rest of Spain in a move that is highly controversial and caused deep divisions in the country. And they supported the cause of a republic.

Of 2.2 million ballots counted, about 90% were in favor of independence, Catalan government spokesman Jordi Turull told a news conference shortly after midnight. Turnout was about 42% of the 5.3 million eligible voters, authorities said. More people would have voted had it not been for the Spanish police suppression. Up to 770,000 votes were lost as a result of the crackdowns at polling stations, the Catalan government estimated.

Catalonia’s separatist government has staged a referendum on leaving Spain – against the wishes of the national authorities. With a population of 7.5 million, its capital is the proud city of Barcelona. The Spanish leadership has rejected the vote as illegal and the courts have ordered a halt. Spanish police have arrested senior Catalan officials, seized ballots and raided key regional buildings, as well as polling stations, in an attempt to stop it going ahead. Catalans have taken to the streets in protest.

Spain’s national government in Madrid has ardently resisted separation. In the runup to the vote, national authorities seized ballot papers, voter lists and campaign material. Thousands of extra national police were sent to the region and high-ranking Catalan officials involved in organizing the referendum were arrested. Regional officials said 400 polling stations were closed as a result of the police crackdown. The Spanish Interior Ministry said 92 of about 2,300 polling stations were closed.

The national police and Guardia Civil – a military force charged with police duties – were sent into Catalonia in large numbers to prevent the vote. The Catalan police – the Mossos d’Esquadra – have been placed under Madrid’s control, however witnesses said they showed little inclination to use force on protesters. Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau, who voted blank on Sunday, condemned police actions against the region’s “defenseless” population, but Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said police had “acted with professionalism and in a proportionate way”.

 

Catalan authorities said 319 of about 2,300 polling stations across the region had been closed by police while the Spanish government said 92 stations had been sealed off. Thousands of people have occupied schools and other buildings designated as polling stations in order to keep them open. Many of those inside were parents and their children, who remained in the buildings after the end of lessons on Friday and bedded down in sleeping bags on gym mats. The anti-independence Societat Civil said there were voting irregularities, including the same people voting twice.

 

‘We just want to be independent’!

The central government in Madrid, headed by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, backed by the Constitutional Court has ruled the referendum held in Catalonia as unconstitutional and therefore illegal.

However the Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, who vowed to hold the vote no matter what, saying if the vote is to leave then he will declare Catalonia a republic within 48 hours, reasserted that the popular will of the people must be respected by the Mariano Rajoy regime.

Catalans have historically felt financially and politically restricted by a Spanish Government that screams the opposite of ‘progress, democracy or modernity’. Catalans are fed-up.” Blanca Civit, a Catalan currently living in London and working in the City said: “The majority just want to be independent because they truly believe Catalonia would fulfill its potential as a country rather than simply being a rich region dependent on Spain. Ms Civit also hit out at the intimidating measures taken by the government in Madrid, saying: “The Spanish Government is using repression and censorship to create fear, arresting innocent people, seizing ballot papers and displaying their armed forces on the streets. “The general mood on the streets continues to be a mix of frustration and optimism.”

A resident of Barcelona said: “For me it’s always been a sense of national identity. I knew we were different, not better or worse. We should be good neighbours. “But lately it’s also about being free from Madrid’s control and that government that is clearly the heirs of dictator Franco.“I’d like Catalonia to finally be an independent state, as it should have been a long time ago so that it can develop according to its own way, which is much more modern than the rest of Spain.  “I’d like people to stop calling me Spanish, because I’m not. I’d like people to relate me with my own culture. “I just don’t want to be Spanish because I’ve never felt I was, it’s as simple as that.”

Another resident of the Catalan capital, who wanted to remain anonymous due to their involvement with the upcoming vote, said that PM Mariano Rajoy was using “fear” to intimidate the Catalan people. They said: “Madrid is using fear, they’re desperate and blind. But that’s Spain, they’re not facing democracy. They’re lost. This has been our struggle for years. “But it is difficult to explain how Catalans feel in a deep way. It’s not only political but a matter of dignity and respect through many decades. Every little thing has been a hard struggle. “Madrid has always criticised our politics and institutions as being ridiculous. “I see independence as the way to settle things in its natural place. The Spanish Government is still using force in the 21st century and in Europe just shows the sad reality we Catalans have to endure.”

Having a state that protects my language, culture, institutions and law is paramount for Catalans. The referendum means democracy to Catalans. The vote is crucial and one of the most relevant events in their life. It is almost a dream come true that it is finally taking place.  “We are voting for dignity. We’ve tried to fit within the Spanish state many times in the past but the answer from the Spanish government to any kind of negotiation has always been ’no’.”

Expressing popular sentiments, Alfred, a 53-year-old economist, said: “Without voting, democracy becomes a dictatorship. A referendum is a desire to be free from Madrid’s control and a way of being able to decide our future. “The measures taken by Madrid are a clear example of how to use the law against masses – and sometimes outlaw – against democracy. He expressed concerns that there could be repercussions metered out by Madrid for simply taking part in the referendum. Another, who wanted to remain anonymous due to their involvement with the Assemblea Nacional Catalana (ANC), said: “For me, it’s one of the most important achievements of my life. For Catalans,  the realization of a dream. “We have a real desire to lead our own lives the way we consider best, without having to depend on anyone in Spain.”

Ruthless measures were undertaken by Madrid to stop the vote: “It is an absolute scandal; they want to make people feel so afraid they will not have the courage to leave our homes and vote on October 1. Another saw the referendum cause as a way of supporting “freedom of expression.  “It is a way for me to express my ideas and above all to support freedom of expression. And fight for my dignity. “For me, I want independence, but there are also many who fight for democracy, regardless of how they are going to vote.”

While the vast majority of Catalans are in favour of independence, of course not everyone is. Barcelona resident Esther Balboa, although not a supporter of Rajoy, does not want Catalonia to separate from Spain. She said: “I don’t want to be independent. I understand the Catalan position and that people are very annoyed, but they knew it was illegal from the beginning. “It’s awful, but that’s the way it is. Rajoy is very stupid and cannot make a political decision. “I hope Madrid gives them more independence and improvements. I don’t know what will happen on Sunday but I hope there is no violence.”

A former resident of the Catalan capital said: “I am not against independence, especially if we become a republic, but not like this. I think both sides have acted appallingly in the last few years.  “All this is too hasty, and there is no doubt that we have ended up in this situation because we have an old-fashioned, conservative government in Madrid that was not open to dialogue and was unwilling to move on and change things.

For many, the referendum does not represent the real situation because all those who do not openly support it as legitimate stayed at home. “Mainly those for independence are going to vote. So yes, the “yes” will win, but I am not so sure the “yes” would have won in a proper referendum negotiated with Madrid after changing the Constitution. It’s just that the people who are against independence are not making noise in the streets.

Many residents in Barcelona said they did not intend to vote and did not have any information where to vote either: “I do not agree with either the Catalan or the Spanish governments. They have to talk together.”  A visual artist, Blanca, is just not concerned about the whole issue: “I’m apolitical. I don’t believe in any country. I don’t care.”

The UK’s Foreign Ministry said the referendum was a matter for the Spanish government and its people. Charles Michel, Belgium’s Prime Minister, said that violence was never the answer and called for political dialogue. Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, whose party strongly advocates Scottish independence from UK, said that people should be allowed to vote peacefully.

Spanish ministers say they are happy for Catalans to celebrate and demonstrate on Sunday and the government in Madrid is opening the door to possible constitutional reforms. They may be ready to offer more money and greater financial autonomy, Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos told the media. .

But that may not be enough for Carles Puigdemont and a Catalan leadership that has spent months preparing a path for independence.

 

Catalonia

Catalonia is one of Spain’s wealthiest and most productive regions and has a distinct history dating back almost 1,000 years. Before the Spanish Civil War it enjoyed broad autonomy but that was suppressed under decades of Gen Francisco Franco’s dictatorship from 1939-75. When Franco died, Catalan nationalism was revived and eventually the north-eastern region was granted autonomy again, under the 1978 constitution.

It is one of Spain’s wealthiest regions, making up 16% of the national population and accounting for almost 19% of Spanish GDP. But there is a widespread feeling that the central government takes much more than it gives back. According to 2014 figures, Catalonia paid €9.89bn more into Spain’s tax authorities than it received in spending – the equivalent of 5% of its GDP.

Meanwhile, state investment in Catalonia has dropped: the 2015 draft national budget allocated 9.5% to Catalonia – compared with nearly 16% in 2003. But some argue that is a natural state of affairs in a country with such regional economic disparities.

 

A 2006 statute granted even greater powers, boosting Catalonia’s financial clout and describing it as a “nation”, but Spain’s Constitutional Court reversed much of this in 2010, to the anger of the regional authorities. Angered by having their autonomy watered down as well as by years of recession and cuts in public spending, Catalans held an unofficial vote on independence in November 2014. More than two million of the region’s 5.4 million eligible voters took part and officials declared that 80% had backed secession. Separatists won Catalonia’s election in 2015 and set to work on holding a binding referendum, defying Spain’s constitution, which states that Spain is indivisible. The election victory means people want  to be  an independent nation.

 

One of the EU’s best-loved cities, famed for its 1992 Summer Olympics, trade fairs, football and tourism. But Spain’s 2008 economic crisis hit Catalonia hard, leaving it with 19% unemployment (compared with 21% nationally).

 

Catalan law

 

The Catalan parliament enacted its own law in a vote on 6 September. There was just one question on the ballot paper: “Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?”And there were two boxes: Yes or No.

 

Under the controversial law, the result is binding and independence must be declared by parliament within two days of the Catalan electoral commission proclaiming the results.

 

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont insisted that “no other court or political body” could suspend his government from power.  Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy condemned the vote as illegal: “I say this both calmly and firmly: there will be no referendum, it won’t happen.” Acting at Rajoy’s request, the Constitutional Court suspended the law passed by the Catalans. The Spanish government also moved to take control of the region’s finances and policing. Catalan officials involved in organizing the vote were arrested, some 10 million ballot papers impounded, and websites informing Catalans about the election were shut down.

 

Catalonia’s own police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, was ordered to accept the command of Spain’s paramilitary Civil Guard to stop the vote taking place. “Spain has de facto suspended the self-government of Catalonia and has applied a de facto state of emergency,” President Carles Puigdemont has complained. Voting did take place in some form in some areas, but more than 400 people were injured when police used force to try to stop the referendum. The national authorities had brought in 4,000 police from outside Catalonia to help thousands of local Mossos police and national officers to keep security and stop the vote.

 

 

Catalonia and Spain

Catalonia, a wealthy region of 7.5 million people in north-eastern Spain, has its own language and culture. It also has a high degree of autonomy, but is not recognised as a separate nation under the Spanish constitution.

It is certainly long-lived. It has its own language, a recorded history of more than 1,000 years as a distinct region, and a population nearly as big as Switzerland’s (7.5 million).  It also happens to be a vital part of the Spanish state, locked in since the 15th Century, and – according to supporters of independence – subjected periodically to repressive campaigns to make it “more Spanish”.

In the 9th century, county of Barcelona formed along with several other counties as a result of efforts by Charlemagne to establish a buffer zone between his Frankish Empire and Muslim-ruled Spain. In 1812-13, Napoleon briefly annexes Catalonia to France, before French troops withdraw from Barcelona under an armistice signed with the Duke of Wellington. In 2006 August – Reformed version of Catalonia’s autonomy statute comes into force, giving the regional government greater powers and financial autonomy. Its preamble also uses the word “nation” to describe Catalonia. 2010 July – Constitutional Court in Madrid strikes down part of the 2006 autonomy statute, ruling that there is no legal basis for recognising Catalonia as a nation within Spain and that Catalan should not take precedence over Castilian in the region.

The decision is criticised by the regional government. Regional parliament votes to ban bullfighting, making Catalonia the first region of mainland Spain to do so. 2012 September – Some 1.5m people take part in Catalonia’s annual independence rally in Barcelona, amid growing Catalan anger at financial transfer from the region to the rest of Spain. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy rebuffs a call by regional leader Artur Mas for greater fiscal independence.

In 2015 November – Catalonia’s parliament adopts a resolution which supports independence. In 2015 December – Spain’s constitutional court revokes Catalonia’s bid to begin the process of separating from the rest of Spain. 2017 October – A planned independence referendum goes ahead but is disrupted by Spanish police. Hundreds of people are injured.

 

Confusing and unpredictable

Catalans voted a controversial referendum on the question of breaking away from Spain at the weekend. Spain’s ruling Popular Party has dismissed Catalonia’s drive to hold an independence referendum as being merely “Hispanophobia”.  The conservative politicians, lead by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Ruling Popular Party, launched a campaign on social media calling the desire of Catalans to break away from the rest of Spain as being a result of anti-Spanish sentiments, mere ‘Hispanophobia’.

The left-wing party Podemos (‘We Can’) has condemned the government in Madrid for the state of affairs, saying it is unhappy with being ruled “irresponsible” people.

Carles Campuzano, the spokesman of PdeCAT (The Catalan European Democratic Party), said that the ruling party’s video foments “hate speech”. Campuzano said there was a need to “listen and understand” what the Catalans demanded during one of Spain’s biggest political crisis in recent years.

In contrast, the spokesman in Congress of the political party Ciudadanos (Citizens Party), Juan Carlos Girauta, said that if they meant to say that in Catalan schools and media, hatred to Spain is cultivated”.  He has assured that, as Catalan, he hears every day the statements against Spain and the Spanish and he has said that “hate is constant. Not since this crisis, but for decades”.

Are Spaniards “thieves”?

 

Observation

 

Those nations within big nations seeking sovereignty would achieve their goal in due course if not immediately, for, the rulers ado not let a part cede from the nation and none wants to see a reduced a territory of their nation but everyone wants a bigger nation by annexing weak neighboring countries. .

Spain is facing a political and constitutional crisis after Catalans voted in favor of independence in a contested referendum that descended into chaos when police launched a widespread and violent crackdown.

The Catalan government said it had earned the right to split from Spain after results showed 90% of those who voted were in favor of a split.

But amid an unexpectedly harsh response from Spanish police, turnout was only around 42%. The Catalan health ministry said 893 people were injured in the clashes Sunday as riot police raided polling stations, dragged away voters and fired rubber bullets.

The Catalan President Carles Puigdemont denounced the police crackdown as the worst violence Catalonia had seen since the military dictatorship of Francisco Franco, and demanded the withdrawal of Spanish national forces from the region.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, called for “independent and impartial investigations into all acts of violence” around the independence referendum, and asked the Spanish government to allow UN human rights experts to visit.  Trade unions in Catalonia called a strike and a mass demonstration for Tuesday, an action likely to test public support for the Catalan government

 

Catalan officials called on the EU to step in. “Today Europe has to choose, shame or dignity. Violence or democracy, this is our demand,” the Catalan Minister of Foreign Affairs Raül Romeva said. But the EU backed Madrid. PM Rajoy has said the vote was illegitimate.

 

Pro-independence supporters have certainly produced large-scale demonstrations in favour of secession. A million people turned out in Barcelona for the national day on 11 September. Opinion polls are hard to come by but the clearest indication came in July, when a public survey commissioned by the Catalan government suggested 41% were in favour and 49% were opposed to independence. 2.2 million voters backed independence in the previous vote in November 2014, and that coalition of separatist parties called Junts pel Si (Together for Yes), with the support of a radical left-wing party, the CUP, won 48% of the vote in 2015 elections.

 

 

There was a sense that support for independence may have been ebbing, but the hardline strategy of the Spanish authorities to stop the vote going ahead may equally have re-energized backing for the vote itself to take place.

 

Large crowds of independence supporters gathered in the centre of the regional capital Barcelona, waving flags and singing the Catalan anthem. Anti-independence protesters have also held rallies in Barcelona and other Spanish cities.

 

Spain’s complicated relationship with the region of Catalonia is headed for the unknown. After violence by Spanish police, a declaration of independence by Catalonia’s regional government seems more likely than ever before. The government in Madrid will hold talks with Spanish parties to discuss a response to the biggest political crisis this country has seen in decades.

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