It Gets Ugly in Catalonia

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

Enjoy reading WOLF STREET and want to support it? You can donate. I appreciate it immensely. Click on the beer and iced-tea mug to find out how:

Would you like to be notified via email when WOLF STREET publishes a new article? Sign up here.

  48 comments for “It Gets Ugly in Catalonia

  1. David Calder says:

    My Seattle friends just got back from a CWI conference in Barcelona and all say the Catalonians are in agreement that it’s now time to break from Spain. Franco is dead and much of the appeal to fascism is dead despite headlines to the contrary. There is no Nazi Germany to back up a fascist Spain..

  2. Brian says:

    I was in Spain when Franco ruled. Madrid was like a morgue and Barcelona was like a community. 50 years later and it seems the same as it ever was.

  3. RR. says:

    The Spanish Civil War was a “Precursor” for WWII
    Are we patiently watching the “Development” of
    another “Precursor” ??? (a precursor to what, I am
    not sure.)

  4. Tom Stone says:

    It really isn’t necessary for the Spanish Government to once again demonstrate that Human stupidity is infinite.

    • Paxman says:

      The spanish central Gov is enforcing spanish laws, including the spanish Constitution.

      • Julian says:

        What a rubbish comment. That’s the same poor excuse used by Serbia with regards to Bosnia-Hercegovina and Croatia.

        I suppose you think Bosnia & Croatia should still be ruled from Belgrade?

      • Kasadour says:

        The only thing you left out of your comment was “Vive El Franco”.

        Catalonia is an autonomous region. though things have changed in Spain, Spanish fascism is still alive and it still appears that Spain needs Catalonia much more than Catalonia needs Spain.

      • Hiho says:

        The spanish had problem in changing the sacred constitution few years ago to make sure that debt service has priority over pensiones and any other kind of public spending.

        The constitution is sacred sometimes, sometimes it is not.

      • Mary says:

        Having become interested in the issue via Quijones posts on Wolf Street, I started doing some reading. I just came across an excellent article that makes your point:
        If a national constitution created by a democratic state can just be pushed aside by a region or locality, government by law instead of pure politics is called into question.

        It’s question that’s germane right now to US politics. Not too long ago, Texas, not to mention the Old Confederacy were threatening to secede over racial integration, government healthcare, etc. Now it’s California with the same idea for very different reasons.

        • Hiho says:

          As I said un my last comment. The spanish gov had no problem whatsoever to change the constitution to make sure that debt service would have priority over public spending.

          So the argument of the “sacred constitution” does not hold water.

          And hey, if current laws and states are not to be changed un any circumstance maybe you should return under the rule of the british crown.

        • Hiho says:

          “Under any circumstance” I wanted to say

        • Alfred (Melbourne) says:


          Comparing the USA with Spain is ridiculous.

          Catalunya has its own language and a long history of its own. Spain only came into being through a series of royal marriages. There is absolutely no reason why one region of Spain should be fleeced in order to provide more “government” for rest of that region.

  5. alex in san jose AKA digital Detroit says:

    I was over there for a week when Franco was still on all the money. The coins, anyway.

    The situation of Spain vs. Catalonia/Catalunya has been ugly for a long time. The Catalan language was actually forbidden for a while.

    I’ve been reading up a bit on my mom’s ancestors, and it’s pretty obvious why they left Vilnius in Lithuania. “Mother” Russia was leaning on Lithuania pretty heavily, and the Lithuanian language was forbidden for a while, too. Student protests, all the stuff we have now in trouble areas, 1870’s style.

    Before going to Barcelona I looked for books on the area and found George Orwell’s “Homage To Catalonia” which wasn’t much use for understanding 1990s Barcelona, but at least I was able to understand that it’s not just another part of Spain, that there’s a rift between Catalonia and Spain that’s deep, that there’s some history to the place. Which is far more than the average American tourist probably understood. And of course being a Californian I knew a little Spanish, which helps.

  6. nick kelly says:

    Very sad. But remember, although the EU can’t be SEEN to be telling or advising Madrid what to do, Spain is a ward of the ECB. Without the ECB backstopping Spain’s bonds, the rate would have to at least triple, effectively bankrupting Spain.
    Let’s hope this message is being conveyed behind closed doors.

    • Julian says:

      Let’s hope the will of the people is respected and if Catalonia wants to go it’s own way no one stops them, or tries to stop them.

      We don’t need more Yugoslavia style wars in Europe.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if Catalonia decided to repudiate any debts foisted on them given their treatment here.

  7. R Davis says:

    Based on what I heard on ABC radio news – Isn’t Catalonia the more financially astute & therefore the rest of Spain will be left in a mess if they attain their independents ?
    Spanish officialdom has become so nasty about it all – surely they could have diplomatically come to some amicable agreement – instead they reached for the baseball bat.

  8. Gershon says:

    It is profoundly depressing watching civilized people violently clashing with each other. There has to be a better way.

    Unfortunately, as the globalists escalate their unfettered plunder against the 99%, ordinary people are going to increasingly turn to nationalist movements – some of which can be quite ugly and jingoistic – in a rejectionist impulse against the oligarchs who are robbing them blind and depriving their children of a future in their own countries.

    • Frederick says:

      It’s going to get ugly Gershon No doubt Historically it always has and it will again Sadly

      • nick kelly says:

        True and it has nothing to do with globalism, neo-liberalism or capitalism.
        You may as well blame those for the Punic wars, the wars between the Athens and Sparta, or the war between Prussia and Austria.

        It would behoove all those complaining about globalism to take a look inside the computer they are commenting with (or a maybe a broken one from a recycling depot)
        It’s a real smorg under that keyboard.

        • nick kelly says:

          To the extent that globalism is antagonistic to nationalism (which is tribalism writ large) as well as the ethnic and religious divisions that have plagued mankind for thousands of years, if anything it makes wars based on these us- versus- them ’causes’ less likely.

          The genesis of the EU was a Franco-German idea to avoid war by creating a transnational jurisdiction.
          It is beginning to look like the only hope to head off civil conflict in member- state Spain.

    • polistra says:

      True, but you can’t fight ugly with nice. If you’re going to fight at all, you have to fight ugly with ugly.

    • michael w Earussi says:

      “Civilization” is a matter of definition. We may have the trappings of a modern society but instinctually we’re still mostly cavemen, especially those who hunger for money and power. Couple that with a clash of egos and a civil war is definitely possible.

  9. jan frank says:

    Little known fact: every year the Spanish government pays a hefty “fine” to the EU because technically the Spanish government is breaking the law. What law? The law that insists that the police – in this case the Guardia Civil – in a member state of the EU is a civilian department of the state. Whereas the Guardia Civil was, and still is, under the direction of the Spanish armed forces, with an army general as chief of the Guardia Civil. To all intents and purposes the Guardia Civil is an “army of occupation”, an effect heightened by all members of the Guardia Civil (and their families) living in closed barracks and being moved on to another part of Spain every five years so as to prevent fraternization. So, in sending three ships full of Guardia Civil officers the Spanish government is actually sending in three troop ships.

  10. Joe says:

    Glad I voted Brexit. There is no democracy in EU.

    • Gershon says:

      We have our Wall Street-owned Republicrat duopoly that serves only its billionaire donors and corporate welfare queens. We have guys like Trump who run on an explicitly populist and nationalist platform, then once in office waste no time turning over our fiscal and monetary policies to “former” Goldman Sachs swamp creatures – not what his supporters voted for.

      So maybe there is no democracy in the US, either.

    • michael w Earussi says:

      There’s no democracy anywhere. We merely get to vote on which politicians get to be bribed by our corporate masters.

  11. a.hall says:

    The Rajoy / Catalan tussle could be a rerun of the Basque Rebellion. If the Madrid Armed Forces repress the Catalans too much. Rajoy only just escaped being Arrested for Banking Corruption. The EU will side with the Bankrupt Spanish Banks who would Bleed to Death without Catalonia. There is a lot of Unemployment and Financial Hardship in the rest of Spain. Watch this space.

  12. d says:

    The question is how ugly will this get.

    Madrid has decided on a course of aggression.

    It will not change its ego is to big to allow compromise.

    so now both sides will loose.

    Sad it didnt need to happen this way but this is the way Madrid has made it Madrid had many options for this, but chose force.
    the price will be high for all involved.

  13. Stevedcfc72 says:

    Great article Don and thanks for telling us what’s going on out there.

    I find it incredibly sad that a country which has gone so far from where it was fifty years ago has to resort to these actions of sending the civil guard in.

    Sounds like an occupation.

    Interesting to see what happens to the Spanish financial institutions in the next week leading up to 1st October.

  14. Cynic says:

    All theatre and a storm in a coffee cup.

    Eternal Spain: nothing more Spanish than hating Madrid!

    I juts pray no one is hurt in all this nonsense.

  15. Roberto says:

    Don Quijones, if your wife is catalonian separatist, how you pretend to be objective about Catalonia´s affair? Be honest and respect the truth.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      She is Mexican.

    • Cynic says:

      Unfair: Don Q. is a very good reporter on Spain, very impartial and much better informed than most!

    • houtskool says:

      Your truth is not mine. So we have to separate. But you are still welcome to the party, as long as you don’t hide peanuts in my couch. Or bring dogshit to my doorstep.

  16. walter map says:

    The fruit of the ambitions of men.

    For all its wide knowledge, and for all its grand accomplishments, humanity still does not know how to achieve a just and lasting peace, and its shameful failure to learn how to achieve this one simple thing can only be the ruin of all that it has gained and all that it is, a destiny defined and demanded only by the smallest few in their rejection of all the rest.

    The gods themselves would despair of it, if only they existed.

  17. mike says:

    There is no “Right to secede” in our ,or any other countries, constitution.

    Try it and see what happens. (look up civil war if you are unsure)

    Every government on the face of this planet considers its own survival more important than the well being of its citizens.

    • nick kelly says:

      The province of Quebec in Canada had a referendum on separation which was a ‘NO’
      The government of Canada has agreed that Quebec may separate but only after a referendum with a clear question.

      The government of the UK agreed to respect the result of Scotland’s referendum on separation, which was also a ‘NO’

      How anyone could be unaware that the UK accepted Scotland’s right to separate is a bit of a mystery.

  18. michael w Earussi says:

    Which ever side “wins” it’s going to be a Pyrrhic victory.

  19. Wilbur58 says:

    Yet more evidence that it is the banks who are in charge, not governments:

    “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.”

    I think that might be backwards. The government of course is cooperating with the bank interests, cooperating being a generous word.

  20. fajensen says:

    The whole mess has the smell of Ukraine about it – some shadow operator egging on some kind of violent confrontation.

    If they had just held the vote maybe 50% tops of the voters would even bother to turn up and the whole thing would fizzle.

    Now? Now people will vote just to punch Madrid in the nose!

  21. Charlie says:

    Half of the catalonian support now independence after crisis that hit Spain for the last years and Catalonia could not handle its own taxation. So they consider they are contributing too much to the rest of Spain or they don’t get enough for what they are paying, being one of the richest regions in Spain (although Madrid is now ahead of Catalonia in PIB per capita). I agree with them on that issue and sympathise with the cause of democracy. However, the independence movement in Catalonia has some ugly parterns:

    1. Extreme left (ERC) and Alt Left (CUP) leading this movement and ideologically close to Venezuela or Cuba
    2. Catalonia is the region with most muslim immigration in Spain, its politicians encouraged immigrantes from Maghreb instead of South America so that they had to learn catalan language instead of using mother tongue spanish
    3. Catalonians defend with more tenacity the globalist open borders policies, complaining that spanish gobernment is not disposing enough of them. You can see photos of big demonstration here:

    The catalonian conundrum, can you be identitarian and open borders globalist?

    • Ivy says:

      Those Spaniards are singing their questions:
      Catalonia, what makes your big head so hard?

  22. John says:

    Gershon hit the nail on the head about many things, esp describing what has happened in the States. I hope the US doesn’t turn the clock back 50 yrs like Spain seems to have. All that seems to be missing is our own secessionist movement.

Comments are closed.