We use cookies for site personalization and analytics. You can opt out of third party cookies. More info in our privacy policy.   Got it

The day Spain’s fascist tactics stopped democracy

 masked police take away ballot boxes
Catalonia referendum: masked police take away ballot boxes

Yesterday, across Catalonia, ballot boxes were ripped from people’s hands by masked police.

A dangerous violence was unleashed, at random, upon citizens, old and young, who stood in line to cast a vote in an independence referendum – deemed illegal by the Spanish State. Over 800 were injured.

With every bloodied baton, every rubber bullet, the repression engaged to stop the referendum, transformed the day from a question of independence to one of basic democracy. People were voting for the right to vote.

For weeks the Spanish government has been calling the referendum a ‘farce’ and trying to present it as just another political ploy by ‘the ruling caste’ of Catalonia.

Yesterday they claimed that this caste was ‘using’ elderly people and children to protect itself from the police. But elderly people went to the polling stations on their own and the children were holding their parents’ hands.

Through its very illegality, the Catalan referendum became a truly bottom-up political process. The risks were shared. The ‘farce’ spoken of may be far graver.

Catalonia referendum
The queue to vote. Photo by Kevin Buckland

As one tweet commented: ‘The ruling political party (Partido Popular, PP) are counting their votes with every smashed skull.’ The unleashing of violence may have less to do with stopping the vote, than with building anti-Catalan antagonism across Spain and showing the Partido Popular to be powerfully in charge.

Saenz de Santamaria, Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister, held a press conference at midday where she said: ‘The complete irresponsibility of the Catalan government demanded to be assuaged by the professionalism of the forces of order. They have carried out the order of law, acting professionally, and adequately. The objective of their interventions has never been the people, but the electoral materials. They have always worked to protect the rights and liberties… And they have completed their democratic obligation… There was no referendum, nor anything close to it.’

This official discourse is so far removed from the lived experience of anyone actually here in Catalonia. For locals, who heard the Spanish State heaping praise on police for using violence they themselves risked, witnessed or suffered, Spain has lost all legitimacy.

A trust has been broken; many will never believe the words of the Spanish state again. This shift may be the most important lasting impact of 1 October. And it may be this that, in the end, pushes Catalonia towards independence.In its dealing with the referendum, the Partido Popular mounted not only a media disaster but a strategic one. At the cost of 844 people injured and requiring hospital treatment, only four cent of polling stations were forcibly closed. Despite the violence, the threats, the complications, 2,262,424 people – 42 per cent of registered voters – were able to cast their vote in the largest act of non-violent civil disobedience I have ever seen.

Some 90 per cent voted for independence. It is doubtful that this vote will result in immediate independence from Spain, but it is a victory for democracy.

Spain calls this vote illegal. That is precisely the point: Catalonia wants to write its own laws. And until it can do that, its people must disobey.

Related: Meet the CUP, the radically democratic party behind the Catalan independence struggle

Kevin Buckland is a contributor in the forthcoming December issue of New InternationalistClampdown! – which looks at how activists face a shrinking of political space around the world

Help us produce more like this

Editor Portrait Patreon is a platform that enables us to offer more to our readership. With a new podcast, eBooks, tote bags and magazine subscriptions on offer, as well as early access to video and articles, we’re very excited about our Patreon! If you’re not on board yet then check it out here.

Support us »

Subscribe   Ethical Shop