Despite the all-out efforts by the Spanish government to prevent the referendum on Catalonian independence from taking place, some 2.3 million people braved cop attacks and threats to cast ballots Oct. 1 — 90 percent in favor. The attacks did cut turnout in some areas, along with a boycott by opponents of breaking away from Madrid. Turnout was 42 percent of the 5.4 million eligible voters.
Madrid, declaring the referendum illegal, sent in federal police with orders to seize ballots and cordon off polling stations. Knowing the cops would face widespread opposition, the federal government housed them on special boats by the docks, where port workers protested their presence.
On Sept. 29 thousands of referendum supporters — teachers, students and their families — occupied about 1,000 school polling stations, preventing the cops from closing them down. Hundreds of farmers drove tractors to the doors to help keep them open. On the morning of the vote Civil Guard and National Police forces in riot gear attacked crowds and attempted to remove people from the polls and seize the ballots.
As lines stretched for blocks of individuals waiting to vote, cops fired rubber bullets at crowds in Barcelona and other cities and beat people.
“The only thing this will do is make those undecided people vote ‘yes’ to independence,” Marc Quintana, a 34-year-old carpenter who was forcibly removed by police in Sant Julià de Ramis before he could vote, told the Wall Street Journal.
“It’s really sad to have to vote like this,” Honorato Pons, 79, a retired welder, told the New York Times. “I’m not going to let anybody in Madrid shut my month and leave me feeling humiliated.”
“We did what we had to do,” Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told the media Oct. 1, praising attacks by the federal cops.
About 2,000 polling stations remained open, according to Catalan officials. With large crowds blocking cops from entering most voting stations, the Spanish government decided to call off federal cop operations early. The polls stayed open until 8 p.m.
During the more that 35 years of his brutal dictatorial rule, Gen. Francisco Franco banned unions, crushed dissent and campaigned to stamp out Catalan nationalism, barring use of the Catalan language. After his regime fell following his death in 1975, Catalans fought for and won growing autonomy in capitalist Spain. In 2005 the Catalan parliament passed a new Statute of Autonomy by an overwhelming majority that expanded self-rule in the region. It was approved by the federal parliament and carried in a referendum in Catalonia the following year. But the expanded autonomy was challenged in Spain’s highest Constitutional Court by the People’s Party — the party of Prime Minister Rajoy.
In 2010 the court threw out or watered down some of the autonomy provisions. “The interpretation of the references to ‘Catalonia as a nation’ and to ‘the national reality of Catalonia’” in the act “have no legal effect,” the court said.
Two weeks later over a million Catalans marched in Barcelona against this decision. Similar marches have taken place every year since on Sept. 11 — the National Day of Catalonia. The march this year, just a couple of weeks before the banned referendum, was a million strong.
The referendum — and the brutal response from Madrid — is a reflection of how the sharpening imperialist competition and capitalist economic crisis is pulling the European Union apart, as is Brexit in the U.K.
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