I read the news items regarding the demonstrations in Catalonia and would like to explain the reason behind why Catalans are protesting and to express the opinion of the other half of the parties and population.
Catalonia is a region of North-eastern Spain with two official languages – Catalan and Spanish – where half the citizens do not feel represented in the Spanish government and do not want to be part of this state. When did this movement gain its current levels of support?
Early in 2006, the Spanish government made some changes in the Statue of Autonomy that the Catalan government was proposing; both parts agreed on the final document. This document was submitted to a referendum and was highly approved by the Catalan citizens.
Later, in 2010, some members of the Spanish High Court of Justice revoked 14 and curtailed 27 articles of the already approved document. Some of these articles were about the importance of Catalan as a co-official language and the regional power over courts and judges. The Court claimed that some laws were not within the remit of the current Catalan government. Interesting that some of these laws were the same as in other regions of Spain and they were never turned down.
Catalonia has a centuries-long history of antipathy toward the Spanish government and monarchy, but it is a fact that, until that moment of change, the independence movement had fewer followers than now.
The Court’s sentence was the beginning of everything. The anger in Catalonia was immediate. There were massive demonstrations against the decision. Even the socialist Catalan president of the time, Jose Montilla, born in Andalusia, expressed to the media his “disappointment and indignation”.
In a democracy, such anger must be channelled through votes.
In 2014, there was a self-determination referendum that resulted in 81 per cent voting for “separation”, with a turnout of 42 per cent. The president in charge at the time of the result, Artur Mas, called another election for September 2015, which he said would be a plebiscite on independence. The pro-independence parties won most of the seats with one of the highest rates of participation (77 per cent).
The truth is that Catalan rights have been stepped over too many times
The new parliament passed a resolution declaring the start of the independence process in November 2015. The following year, new president Carles Puigdemont, announced a referendum on independence. The referendum was held on October 1, 2017 – a day that Catalans will never forget.
On the day of the referendum, the Spanish National Police Corps and the Guardia Civil intervened; they raided and used batons against firefighters and civilians in some of the voting stations.
The Catalans were obstructing the raiders from accessing the voting tables as they thought they were defending their rights. The Spanish government sent the police as they argue that the separation of Catalonia from Spain is illegal.
According to the judge from Barcelona who is currently investigating the accusations of police violence, there were 218 persons injured on that day in the city of Barcelona alone, 20 of whom were police agents.
The United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights urged the Spanish government to prove all acts of violence that took place to prevent the referendum. The police action also received criticism from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which defined it as an “excessive and unnecessary use of force”.
As the referendum could not be stopped, the Spanish government subsequently suspended the self-ruling Catalan government and the Court launched an order to incarcerate the elected politicians (and some civilians) who formed the Catalan government at the time. Again, the rights of the Catalan citizens were in danger.
Some of the politicians fled to other European countries. The ones who stayed were immediately taken into preventative detention.
They were detained for almost two years, up until October 14, 2019 when the Court made the final sentence public. The previously detained politicians and civilians were sentenced up to 13 years in prison depending on their involvement and how much influence they had in the referendum.
In Spain, if you are found guilty of committing rape, you are incarcerated for between six to 12 years. For human traffic, you are imprisoned for anywhere between five to eight years. But for allowing the referendum, you are sentenced to spend between nine and 13 years behind bars.
As Alfred Bosch, a pro-independence Catalan politician wrote: “My colleagues and friends have been judged and sentenced for their political views in the 21st century and for allowing citizens to vote. Criminalising voting is never the answer, but rather the opposite.”
Some anti-independence citizens have also taken to the streets. For them, the protest is no longer about identity but, rather, about democracy.
The Catalan movement has always been peaceful. Most of the demonstrations that have taken place this week in Barcelona and in different cities of the region have been peaceful. The truth is that Catalan rights have been stepped over too many times. The violence, aggressivity and the use of illegal techniques from the Spanish and Catalan police against the protesters have increased the group of young people who, far from being scared, have decided to avoid turning the other cheek as their progenitors and friends have been doing for the last few years.
I agree, some of the images seen over the past days from Barcelona show the growing tension between both parties. But, to be clear, most of the images showing a larger number of participants demonstrate how violence, war or even death never were and never will be in the path of Catalans.
This sentence from the Spanish Court has originated movements not only in Catalonia but also in Bilbao, Madrid and Valencia, as well in different cities worldwide thanks to Catalan citizens and democracy supporters.
Cristina Costa is a Spanish resident of Malta.