Spain: Cracking down on separatist Catalonia
No one is celebrating in Catalonia in the wake of this week’s independence referendum, said Barcelona-based La Vanguardia in an editorial. All Catalans, separatist or not, are devastated about the police brutality that was meted out at polling places as our semiautonomous region voted on whether to break away from Spain. The federal government in Madrid had warned that the vote was illegal. And when the Mossos d’Esquadra—Catalonia’s police force—refused to confiscate ballots or close polling places, Madrid sent thousands of federal police from all over Spain to do so. While many officers behaved honorably, others “acted with real fury,” and the world witnessed scenes of riot police beating voters with billy clubs, grabbing women by the hair and hurling them down staircases, and firing rubber bullets into lines of orderly people clutching ballot papers. By the end of the day, some 900 people had been injured, and at least two were in the hospital in serious condition.
The leaders of both Catalonia and Spain are to blame, said the Madrid daily El Pais. Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont should never have forced a vote that was so strongly opposed by Madrid as well as by up to half his own people. Worse, because he had “at least the passive support of an armed force,” the Mossos, his act was dangerously close to rebellion. Still, his “blatant crime” does not justify the behavior of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who first thunderously forbade a referendum and then hid behind the Justice Ministry, pretending he bore no responsibility for the brutality of the crackdown. He could have let the vote proceed and then simply refused to honor its result, rather than sending police to beat up grandmothers at the ballot box.
Rajoy’s response to the violence he unleashed has been shameful, said El Punt Avui, a Girona, Catalonia–based daily. Rajoy “sounded exactly like a domestic abuser,” repeatedly saying he didn’t want to hurt Catalans but that he had no choice because we were so disrespectful. Yet while the day of the vote was traumatic, it was also the first day of our new life as free Catalans. We chose the ballot, not the gun, and we prevailed.
But we can’t claim that a majority of Catalans overall voted for independence, said Barcelona-based El Periodico de Catalunya. While 90 percent of voters who cast ballots—some 2.3 million people—supported seceding from Spain, turnout was only 42 percent, because most pro-Spanish voters simply stayed home. Puigdemont made “a serious mistake” both in calling the referendum and then in immediately announcing that the results meant independence was inevitable. Now Puigdemont is trying to use opposition to Madrid’s crackdown to rally Catalans to independence. But let’s be clear: “The disproportionate police response does not make the referendum legal, nor render its results democratic.” Now Rajoy’s government is saying it might place Catalonia under federal authority, at least temporarily. The end result of this mess could be less independence, not more.