Madrid is threatening to bring criminal charges against over 700 mayors in the autonomous region of Catalonia, including the mayor of Barcelona, Spain’s second largest city, if they provide facilities or aid for the referendum called by the Catalan National Assembly.
Catalonia President Carles Puigdemont will also face charges if the referendum proceeds.
Catalans — like those in Spain’s Basque country — have historically faced national oppression under Spanish rule. Under the lash of the capitalist economic crisis, the rulers in Madrid have stepped up assaults on Catalan rights and use of the Catalan language.
Prime Minister Rajoy, the Spanish federal courts and Spain’s King Felipe have all declared the referendum illegal, saying the Spanish Constitution, adopted in 1978, asserts Spain is indivisible.
Police have raided print shops and other facilities in the province looking for voting boxes, ballots and pro-independence literature to seize and destroy, so far unsuccessfully.
Madrid’s threats deepened after a Sept. 11 pro-independence demonstration of a million people in the Catalonia capital of Barcelona demanding the right to hold the referendum.
“It’s about defending what we believe in, which is independence,” Helena Casador, a 23-year-old student from Tarragona, told the Guardian at the demonstration. “It will go ahead because people are prepared to defy the state.”
“We will vote,” more than 700 mayors chanted in Barcelona Sept. 16, backed by hundreds of flag-waving independence supporters.
Polls show an overwhelming majority of Catalans support holding the referendum, whether or not they support Catalonia’s independence.
The question on the ballot reads, “Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?” There are about 5.5 million eligible voters out of a population of 7.5 million.
Decades of struggle, economic weightThe Catalans with their own national identity, language and customs, have lived for more than 1,000 years in a region on the Mediterranean coast in northeast Spain. Under a long series of feudal monarchies based in Madrid, Catalans have faced ongoing repression aimed at making them “more Spanish.”
In the 19th century, Catalonia was at the forefront of Spanish industrialization, creating a strong working class.
In 1931 a mass revolutionary movement rose against the dictatorial government in Madrid and led to the creation of a Spanish republic. An autonomous Catalan regional government and demands for self-determination arose out of these struggles.
Backed by the fascist regimes in Berlin and Rome, reactionary Gen. Francisco Franco led the old army in the bloody Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939, defeating Stalinist, anarchist and centrist forces that prevented the toilers from carrying out a thoroughgoing revolution. During the civil war the revolutionary Catalonian masses fought on the republican side against the fascists.
Franco’s dictatorship lasted until his death in 1975. As trade unions were crushed and revolutionary organizations banned, so too was Catalan autonomy, with language and culture suppressed. Many nationalist-minded Catalan activists were executed or forced into exile.
On the heels of the fall of the dictatorship, a new Spanish Constitution was adopted in 1978 recognizing Catalans as a “nationality.” It established Catalan and Spanish as the two official languages of Catalonia. But in 2010 the Spanish Constitutional Court reversed this, holding there was no legal basis for considering Catalonia a nation and that the Catalan language should not take precedence in the region.
For Spain’s capitalist rulers the stakes are high in their drive to block the referendum and beat back pro-independence forces. Catalonia makes up 16 percent of Spain’s population and its industrial activity — based on chemicals, automobile manufacturing, energy, metal, pharmaceuticals, electronics and other goods — generates about 20 percent of Spain’s gross domestic product.
The bourgeois political parties that are currently leading agitation for Catalonian independence call for immediate entry into the European Union. The rulers in Madrid bitterly oppose this, fearing it would throw Europe’s fourth largest capitalist economy back into crisis. This adds further to the growing instability and coming apart of the pipe dream of an “ever increasing union” of Europe.
The defeat of national oppression in Catalonia can help advance the class struggle there, in the Basque country and Spain.
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