Even before Catalans had finished placing their votes for the Catalan Independence referendum on October 1st, the signs that Spain would not let Catalonia gain its independence without a fight were blatantly obvious. Spanish riot police began rounding up, in a frighteningly violent manner, Catalans who were merely in line to place their vote:
In truth, the Spanish national government tried to prevent the referendum from occurring at all. Catalonia is one of 17 Spanish ‘autonomous communities,’ which, in addition to two autonomous cities, have been granted a certain level of self-governance. Apparently, holding a vote asking, "Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?" crosses the lines of self-governance.
Upon the announcement of the October 1st referendum, the Spanish government requested that the Constitutional Court of Spain suspend the referendum, stating that such a call for independence violated the Spanish constitution. The Constitutional Court obliged the government’s request. The Catalan Parliament, already acting as if they were an independent state, said ‘the vote must go on,' re-affirming the October 1st referendum vote.
Despite urging only peaceful action, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont presciently warned his citizens that the national government, their administrative attempts at blocking the referendum having failed, was likely to resort to force, urging Catalans to prepare themselves for the likelihood of government-sanctioned violence.
As the plans for a Catalan independence vote progressed, so did the escalation of threats from the national government, led by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy:
‘Spain’s chief prosecutor last week warned that anyone helping to organize the referendum will risk criminal charges. He’s already preparing action against senior officials including [Catalan President Carles] Puigdemont and on Friday Spanish police raided a printing works suspected of helping to prepare ballot papers.’ (Bloomberg)
The Spanish government continued to paint the separatist movement, Puigdemont in particular, as radicals misrepresenting the amount of Catalans who were in favor of independence. Yet, when October 1st arrived, Catalans turned out in droves, despite the foreseen brutality of national police who stormed polling places and did all they could to disrupt and discourage voting. The national government knew these measures were necessary because they knew that the results would show, overwhelmingly, that Catalans want freedom from a financially irresponsible national government.
The amount of Catalans who said ‘Si’ to forming an independent republic was an overwhelming 91.6%. But in the wake of this vote, the rhetoric and action coming out of the national government in Madrid have become even more authoritarian, dictatorial, and radical. While the suppression of democracy is indisputably wrong, and the means which the Spanish government are using inarguably shameful, one not need a finance degree to see why the national government is so desperate to hold onto Catalonia, and why Catalans are so eager to rid themselves of the national government.
History remains relatively fresh in Catalans’ minds, particularly the days of oppression under dictator Francisco Franco. The actions of the current national government are trending in a similar direction. The reason Catalonia has always been so valuable to the nation, and therefore ripe for government control and oppression, is its financial prowess.
Remember that Catalonia is one of 17 Spanish autonomous communities. Yet, according to CNBC, it accounted for approximately 20% of Spain’s GDP as of 2013. It also accounts for 25% of the nation’s exports. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call a disproportionately high financial contribution. To boot, Catalonia pays 21% of the nation’s taxes, with little from the government to show for these disproportionate tax payments.
Money is at the center of this conflict. The region that disproportionately produces money wants to keep more of it, justifiably so. The government that has long-siphoned money from Catalans to fund its own indiscretionary spending habits wants to keep that money, unjustifiably so. While government-issued warnings that Catalan independence could trigger a national financial meltdown are likely accurate, there’s an old saying: they had it comin’.
Most can only be used and abused for so long, and Spain’s economic crisis, triggered in 2008, left Catalonia literally paying the price for a government who could not stop borrowing and spending on, primarily, Catalans’ dime. More than 91% of voting Catalans won’t get fooled again, and they want out.
Court-ordered blockages couldn’t stop the vote. Violence couldn’t either. Naturally, Spain’s Constitutional Court – the same one that tried to stop the vote from happening – has deemed the vote ‘illegal,’ and the results void.
But even before voiding the results, the Spanish government began rounding up and jailing pro-separatist Catalan leaders, starting with Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart. According to the Independent, ‘The judge ruled they were orchestrators of massive demonstrations on September 20 to 21 in Barcelona that hindered a police operation against preparations for the October 1 independence referendum.’
It was a peaceful demonstration held more than a week before the referendum to ensure Catalans that, despite threats from the national government, they should turn out to vote. Apparently, in Spain, the organization of peaceful demonstration is a criminal offense. The more you read, the less Spain sounds like a free country, much less a democratic one.
Now, it appears the national government is orchestrating a full-blown takeover of the Catalan Parliament. Something that unfolded in Venezuela not too long ago. See where we’re going here?
‘The dramatic Catalan action is in response to Rajoy's shocking announcement on Saturday, when he disclosed plans to clear out the entire separatist administration in Barcelona and take control of key institutions including public media and the regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra. Spain’s chief prosecutor said that if Puigdemont declares independence he would face as much as 30 years in jail and signaled that he could be arrested immediately.’ (Zero Hedge)
That’s what we call a hostile takeover. And, like most European nations where citizens are restricted near-completely from firearm ownership, the citizens of Catalonia, and all of Spain for that matter, appear to be at the mercy of the government and their arsenal of firearms.
The best weapon the citizens have? The human shield. No kidding.
‘Catalan separatists are mobilizing a human shield to block efforts by the Spanish authorities to take control of the breakaway region as both sides prepare to escalate the political conflict.
Groups will concentrate their activists around the regional government’s headquarters in Barcelona’s Gothic quarter and the nearby parliament building, according to two people familiar with the plans, asking not to be identified by name. They expect Spanish police to use force to try to shut down the administration and will put their bodies on the line, said one person.’ (Bloomberg)
They should expect the Spanish police to use force because they have and they will again. And it looks like Catalonia will be taken over by the national government, which will certainly infest the prosperous state with corruption and inevitable financial ruin, taking the rest of Spain down with it, once again.
This is what independence movements in Europe have come to look like. While the Brexit movement has not escalated as quickly as the Catalan independence quashing, Britain has also not even sniffed the independence it voted for over a year ago. That’s because the larger governing body, the EU, likely will not permit its independence. And Theresa May, words aside, is far less invested in Britain’s independence than the pro-separatist Catalan leaders, at least two of whom now sit in jail cells.
Catalans showed bravery, backbone, and a justifiable, admirable fervor for independence, but David does not always take down Goliath. In the case of Spain and Catalonia, it appears for now that Goliath has won.