And then what happened. The days following the 1 October vote (see last week's post), I think many of us were in a state of shock. Shocked and emotionally affected by what we’d seen, and were still seeing, as more and more images and stories became public, and also amazed by just how successful the vote had actually been in those conditions. Every time I met someone who I knew felt deeply about the cause or had been ‘manning’ a polling station too, my eyes filled up with tears. The international press seemed to give a very clear idea of what had happened so we were hopeful that someone somewhere in Brussels might finally speak up. I’m not asking them to say, “oh yeah, Catalonia be free” – merely for them to ‘advise’ the Spanish government to sit down and work out a political negotiated agreement on how to move forward on this clear demand by millions of citizens. Given the refusal of Spain to even accept what had happened, many opinion-makers and politicians requested international mediation but Spain refused this too. In another sad revamp of political methods from darker days, instead of talking, Spanish ministers went on record claiming that the referendum as such hadn’t happened (merely a few chaotic illegal acts), that the medical service was lying when it stated they had treated over 900 people, that hundreds of police had been injured (a number later reduced to 4), and one minister even went on the BBC to say that the majority of images of police violence were faked (when in fact many were recorded by international media, including the BBC!).
3 October – general strike called in Catalonia to protest police violence and give our backing to the referendum. This strike wasn’t just called by trade unions, but by political parties and pro-independence groups and associations so basically it represented a complete shutdown of Catalonia for a day, especially when people blocked the Mediterranean motorway and train-line at different points in the day. A glance at a map shows that Spain, and Europe, are playing with fire as it would be, and is, so easy to cut off main transport communications between Spain and France. A demonstration of about 5000 people was held in our local town, Tortosa.
10 October – after a nerve-wracking week of intense political drama and debate with everybody following the news 24 hours a day, the Catalan President officially presented the results of the referendum to the Catalan Parliament. He said that these results (together with Spain’s “response”) legitimized a declaration of independence but that he would leave it “in suspension” a few weeks to allow for any possible dialogue. People say this was probably due to the fact that Donald Tusk, leader of the European Council, had made a last-minute call for restraint and not to take the jump to independence just yet, implying that maybe Europe had woken up and would intervene if we didn’t push things to the limit (now, looking back, it seems he fooled us). The evening President Puigdemont said this in Parliament there were tens of thousands of Catalans outside the building, ready, if necessary, to try and block the entrance of Spanish police whom everyone believed would try to arrest the President. In fact this week, it has been confirmed in the press that if he’d directly declared independence there were plans for police to enter via helicopter, sewers, and attacking the main entrance, whatever the cost in physical injuries to citizens.
16 October – Background; there is a huge grassroots pro-indy group in Catalonia, called ANC, with over 50,000 paying members, and with many many more people following its guidelines and demonstrations. There is also a highly-respected cultural association set up in Franco’s days to defend Catalan literature, culture, and language, called Omnium. This group often work alongside ANC to organize independence events. Anyway, on 20 September the Spanish police raided different Catalan government buildings in Barcelona. The biggest raid was in the Economy ministry where they arrested government officials and took away loads of documents, mainly connected to the “illegal”referendum. Omnium and ANC called for a protest gathering outside the building while the police were inside. Literally thousands turned up, with many more blocking roads and protesting in other parts of Barcelona too as people saw it as Spain trying to take over the Catalan government, and do away with self-rule as they’d already threatened. A stand-off was reached with the police unable to leave the building peacefully thanks to all the people outside but eventually in the evening the leaders of Omnium and ANC asked people to move away, to form a corridor for the police to start leaving, and as soon as possible to go home as the protest was over. Well, the Spanish public prosecutor has brought charges against these two people which still have to be proven in court –charges of “sedition” which could apparently lead to a 30-year sentence. Meanwhile, on 16 October, the judge jailed them anyway on remand while they await trial. Today marks one whole month in jail - for two innocent people.
27 October –after weeks of attempting to get Spain to negotiate or Europe to propose international mediation, 2 key things happened this day. The Catalan Parliament voted to declare independence with 70 of 135 MPs in favour. A historic moment with lots of epic images, anthem singing, flag waving, solemnity.... but, at roughly the same time in Madrid the Spanish government were also playing their top card. They decided to put Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution into practise for the first time. This allows the central government to take over the home-rule powers of any of the autonomous communities (Catalonia is one of about 20) in Spain if the government thinks they’ve misbehaved, to put it in plain English. Many believed a few months ago that they wouldn’t go so far as this, effectively eliminating home-rule, as the political setup of autonomous communities is one of the key parts of the glue holding Spain together. But Rajoy and co. had been warning that this day might come, and it did. Thus, as Catalans hit the streets to celebrate, Spain put the machine into action to take over Catalonia’s government.
So, there were now two parallel realities. In one, Catalonia had declared its independence and must now put it into practise. In the second reality, Spain had taken over the Catalan government and dismissed its President and ministers. At that moment, people believed we either go meekly into the night and allow Spain to crush us, or we go for the epic defence of the new Catalan Republic, with the President and his ministers in the Parliament building surrounded by thousands of citizens protecting our democracy, while the Catalan police take over the positions of Spanish police around the country, especially at key control points like airports etc. The fact that we were called to celebrate in town squares, rather than encircle the Parliament on the night of the 27th was a clue as to which road we’d be taking, though. Not the epic Braveheart one, but the one of peace and common sense. This was confirmed over the weekend when the Catalan govt basically disappeared, except for the President who was seen going about his social life and who asked Catalans, in a televised speech, above all to peacefully defend our democracy in whatever way necessary and not to respond to provocations. Another key aspect was that Rajoy announced they’d hold autonomous elections in Catalonia on 21 December (illegally as only the Catalan parliament can call these elections). Would independence parties participate? Will they be allowed to? How, if we’re already independent?
30 October – Monday morning. Catalan government officially dismissed by Spain. Would they dare to turn up for work? Would they be arrested? Over the weekend the chief of the Catalan police accepted Spanish police taking control over them (following Article 155) so we now knew there’d be no clashes between different police forces. One Minister turned up, was in his office for a while, then left again. But where’s the President? By lunchtime we knew. In Brussels. Rumours had flown in previous weeks that if it came to the worst, Belgium would be a possible place for the Catalan government to go into exile – an act with significant historic overtones for Catalans who have seen their governments arrested, executed, or exiled before. Meanwhile Spain issued arrest warrants for them.
31 October – President Puigdemont press conference in Brussels. He explained that up until the 29th itself he had tried to negotiate a last-minute agreement with Spain to no avail. He had offered to forget the independence declaration and call elections, if Spain called off the threat of Article 155 – to no avail. He explained that on the same day of the independence vote, he’d been told that Spain was more than willing to use violence to end this situation. That if we went down the “epic road” (my wording), they’d use police violence against any citizens trying to obstruct the police from arresting the government. That there may be deaths, and these would be on the Catalan government’s conscience. [Another top-ranking Catalan MP went on record this week confirming this, that Spain had threatened the Catalan govt with civilian deaths]. Given this information, Puigdemont wisely reaffirmed what we have always said, that the birth of the independent Catalonia can only be a peaceful birth, and faced with this level of brutality, it was better to retreat and play intelligently. The plan would be for some of the Catalan govt ministers to return to Spain to face their court cases, while the President and 4 ministers would stay in Brussels to actually work as the legitimate Catalan government, making all the contacts they can to generate support and/or denounce what’s happening. He also said Catalans have no fear of democracy, so we would accept the gauntlet of the December elections. It also turned out that the independence vote hadn’t been completely legalised as it hadn’t been published in the official gazette of the Catalan Parliament yet, another play in this intriguing game of violent chess.
2 November – 8 Catalan government ministers travel to Madrid for preliminary hearings on their court cases, and are immediately jailed on remand too. As we all think we know, when “important people” are jailed, they are treated with kid gloves, aren’t they? Well, not here. Apparently they were sat on benches without seatbelts in the back of police vans for a 3-hour drive at full pelt, speeding round corners, with their hands cuffed behind their backs. Meanwhile Spanish police officers insulted them and played a constant loop of the Spanish national anthem. On their arrival at the prison, at least two were then strip-searched.
Apart from being government ministers who’d merely carried out their political programme/promises, peacefully and clearly, two members of the government used to be MPs in the European Parliament, well-known and respected for their work on peace, international cooperation, and human rights. One of them was even involved in the peace talks in Yugoslavia. And now they are treated like this. Words fail me. They are also still in jail as I write this.
8 November – a second general strike, once again bringing roads and railways to a standstill.
9 November – the Speaker of the Catalan Parliament called to court too for allowing the Parliament to hold a debate and vote on independence. She was given a bail of €150,000 to avoid jail –but the judge/beaurocratic system wouldn’t accept the payment until the next day, so she had to spend a night in prison too!
Meanwhile, despite initial reluctance, it became clear that we (pro-indy parties) had decided to face the 21 December elections whatever happened. Perhaps this would be the signal Europe needs, yet another victory for independence, this time through elections? At the previous elections, two pro-indy parties joined forces, while a third left-wing one stood separately but supported the others in Parliament. This time, after much debate, they’ve decided to stand each on their own, and then make coalitions afterwards, presuming they win of course. At the same time, Spain’s been doing its work too –sending its ambassadors and the foreign minister to spread lies and confusion, criticizing Catalan press and TV (getting ready to take them over too), criticizing the Catalan education system (getting ready to make radical changes), wondering whether pro-independence parties or jailed politicians can stand for elections, and organizing unionist rallies in Barcelona –filled out with people bussed in from all around Spain! The Chief of Catalan police, responsible for the quick and efficient response to the terrorist attacks in Catalonia in August has now been demoted to a pen-pushing job in a small police station. And slowly but surely, Spain has been taking over Catalan ministries.
There have also been many, almost daily, gatherings, rallies, and other activities demanding freedom for the ten political prisoners now sleeping in Spanish jails, hundreds of miles away from their families.
11 November - The largest such demonstration was held in Barcelona last Saturday. Probably over 750,000 people showed (a) we want these prisoners released and (b) the Catalan ‘problem’ isn’t going away. Photo below: