Spain’s “ships of repression” are coming to help out.
By Don Quijones, Spain, UK, & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
Madrid’s crackdown on Catalonia is already having one major consequence, presumably unintended: many Catalans who were until recently staunchly opposed to the idea of national independence are now reconsidering their options.
A case in point: At last night’s demonstration, spread across multiple locations in Barcelona, were two friends of mine, one who is fanatically apolitical and the other who is a strong Catalan nationalist but who believes that independence would be a political and financial disaster for the region. It was their first ever political demonstration. If there is a vote on Oct-1, they will probably vote to secede.
The middle ground they and hundreds of thousands of others once occupied was obliterated yesterday when a judge in Barcelona ordered Spain’s militarized police force, the Civil Guard, to round up over a dozen Catalan officials in dawn raids. Many of them now face crushing daily fines of up to €12,000.
The Civil Guard also staged raids on key administrative buildings in Barcelona. The sight of balaclava-clad officers of the Civil Guard, one of the most potent symbols of the not-yet forgotten Franco dictatorship, crossing the threshold of the seats of Catalonia’s (very limited) power and arresting local officials, was too much for the local population to bear.
Within minutes almost all of the buildings were surrounded by crowds of flag-draped pro-independence protesters. The focal point of the day’s demonstrations was the Economic Council of Catalonia, whose second-in-command and technical coordinator of the referendum, Josep Maria Jové, was among those detained. He has now been charged with sedition and could face between 10-15 years in prison. Before that, he faces fines of €12,000 a day.
The confiscation of ballots and other vital voting paraphernalia and the detention of key members of the referendum’s organizing committee, together with today’s decision by the Spanish Finance Ministry to completely block the regional government’s accounts — a move that would not be possible without full cooperation of both Spanish and Catalan banks — could be a major setback for Catalonia’s dreams of independence.
Without ballots, voter databases and ballot boxes, organizing a referendum is going to be a tough task, especially if Catalonia’s government no longer has access to public funds. But it will still try. It’s already launched a new website informing the public of the location of voting colleges on October 1. The site replaces dozens of other URLs that have been shut down at the behest of Spanish authorities.
Nonetheless, yesterday’s police operation significantly — perhaps even irreversibly — weakens Catalonia’s plans to hold a referendum on October 1, as even the region’s vice-president Oriol Junqueras concedes. But that doesn’t mean Spain has won. As the editor of El Diario, Ignacio Escolar, presciently notes, yesterday’s raids may have been a resounding success for law enforcement, but they were an unmitigated political disaster that has merely intensified the divisions between Spain and Catalonia and between Catalans themselves.
Each time Prime Minister Rajoy or one of his ministers speak of the importance of defending democracy while the Civil Guard seizes posters and banners related to the October 1 vote and judges rule public debates on the Catalan question illegal and then fine their participants, a fresh clutch of Catalan separatists is born.
In the days to come they will be swarming the streets, waving their flags, clutching their red carnations and singing their songs. For the moment, the mood is still one of hopeful, resolute indignation. But the mood of masses is prone to change quickly, and it’s not going to take much to ignite the anger.
Madrid is sending three ships with a total of 6,000 non-Catalan police reinforcements to Barcelona in the coming week. In reaction, the stevedores at Barcelona Port have voted not to provide any services to the ships, which they consider to be “ships of repression.”
If it spirals out of control, the conflict between Barcelona and Madrid could have ugly repercussions far beyond Spanish borders, as we warned in a 2015 article. Yet the European Union steadfastly refuses to mediate in the crisis, arguing that it must respect Spain’s constitution.
Given Brussels’ long-standing habit of meddling in others’ affairs, including toppling the elected leaders of Greece and Italy at the height of Europe’s sovereign debt crisis, it’s a poor excuse. And most of Europe’s governments (with the possible exception of the UK, which is already engaged in a gargantuan struggle with Brussels) refuse to support Catalonia’s separatist movement out of the fear — largely justifiable — that it could fuel separatist tensions closer to home.
But the crisis in Catalonia is not going to go away just by ignoring it.
In the last few weeks alone three major international newspapers — Le Monde, The New York Times and The Times — have called for Madrid to allow a referendum. And with Rajoy and his government seemingly determined to pummel Catalonia into submission, at just about any cost, the chances are that their ranks will grow.
And this is where Madrid is making arguably its biggest mistake. For a new country to be born, it must first be recognized. Thanks to years of sustained, non-violent protest and the often overblown reaction of the Rajoy government, Catalonia has already massively increased the positioning of its brand internationally. Ten years ago, most people in the world didn’t even know what or where Catalonia was. Now, it’s hogging the headlines of the front pages of the biggest newspapers. By Don Quijones.
“Do not underestimate the power of Spanish democracy.” Read… Catalonia’s Defiance of Spanish Authority Turns into Rebellion
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