1 October: then and now
It’s 1 October again, full year has passed since the Catalans managed to hold a referendum against all the odds. The Spanish government and authorities would not authorise the referendum but the Catalan authorities decided to go ahead with it anyway. Thanks to extraordinary ingenuity, resolve and firm non-violent resistance of the people, they pulled it off. Ballot boxes were imported from China, stored in Elna, Rousillon, smuggled across the border to distribution points, and then taken to the polling stations without one being intercepted by police. Hundreds of thousands of ballot papers were seized, but of course there are millions of printers in Catalonia.
People of all ages occupied the schools acting as polling stations as soon as classes finished on 29 September, two days before the vote, and then defended them. People took turns sleeping in their schools in anticipation of the police raids that eventually came on the morning of the ballot when all hell broke loose. The 12,000 Civil Guards and National Police who had been drafted in had left their towns and villages across Spain to chants of “Go get ’em, oo-ee!” as if they were on their way to a hooligan confrontation in a motorway service area.. Why were they singing this? Because they knew what they were coming to do. They were here to beat down the Catalans.
They were put up in ageing ferries. One of the vessels bore a Tweety Pie paint job, much to the amusement of the Catalans. They were also put up in hotels. In Pineda, we were treated to another hooligan spectacle as pumped police chanted at the protesters outside “Let us act!” by which they meant let us out to attack these people. One magazine was taken to court for suggesting many officers were on coke. It was an impression shared by many. Dietary supplements so popular in the gyms of Spain might also have played a part in the high levels of aggression on show.
These were the professionals entrusted with stopping the Catalan referendum on self-determination. They failed. They dragged, beat, kicked and punched the people standing in front of the schools. They did so indiscriminately, regardless of age or size. They fired salvos and rubber bullets, and Roger Español lost an eye. Every police officer that acted that day, acted against an unarmed person who had vowed not to act. Every police officer that acted violently that day is a coward and every person that resisted is a hero.
For months, the Spanish government and media claimed the hundreds of videos and hospital reports were fake. I still find it hard to watch those videos and look at the photographs. Those still unsure what happened that day should do so, and believe their eyes, not the still repeated Spanish government line. The trauma of that day persists in people’s minds. The endless images of Spanish police in full body armour wreaking extreme violence on the defenceless voters, arms raised in the air in a posture of non-violent resistance, still play on a loop in my mind. People who took the blows without fighting back. It is the most impressive show of resolve and restraint I have ever witnessed. I have nothing but respect for each and every one of these people. I no longer have any for the Spanish State. 1 October was the day that Spain burnt all its bridges with Catalonia.
Simultaneously, the electronic voting system came under a relentless cyber attack from the State’s hired hackers. For every server that crashed another proxy server took over. People who could not vote in one station, could do so in another. The IT system could not count votes more than once, whatever unionist politicians and the Spanish press invented.
Throughout the year the Spanish government’s version of what happened last September and October has been a tissue of implausible lies peddled by the most of the Spanish and international media. It’s hard for people with lives and limited resources to combat the relentless propaganda being pumped out by the Spanish State and trying to tell the stories that the foreign correspondents have chosen to ignore, but it’s why I started this blog.
The legal assault began before the referendum with the seizure of the Catalan ministry of Economy and financial affairs. All websites advertising the referendum were illegally closed down by the Civil Guard, something now to be legalised as Spain’s three main unionist forces – PSOE, PP and Ciudadanos recently signed an amendment making court orders unnecessary, not that legal restrictions have ever stopped the Spanish State acting in the past.
When the Spanish police raided government offices on 20 September and arrested 15 high-ranking officials of the Catalan government, a police operation repeated throughout the year as the Spanish authorities have searched desperately for evidence of misuse of public funds, but found nothing. 40,000 people surrounded the Ministry of Economy to protest that night and yet the 14 Civil Guard officers were allowed to go about their duties unmolested. It’s the Catalan way. 40,000 savages will reduce 14 officers in seconds. 40,000 angry but civilised Catalans will simply express what they think and how they feel, loudly. The firearms that were deliberately left in the back of those police cars to provoke violence went untouched. This is just one of the many traps set by the police that have remained unsprung in the past twelve months.
Civil leaders, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez, asked permission to climb onto the roof of one of the three police vehicles that had been abandoned by Civil Guard officers at the scene. Until then had been used by press photographers as vantage points. Through a megaphone, they managed to quieten the crowd long enough to explain that it was time to end the protest and go home, which they duly did. The Jordis have now been in preventive prison on charges of rebellion and sedition for almost a year, though the violence and tumult stipulated in these laws was only conspicuous by its absence. A year later the Spanish judiciary has failed to come up with any evidence of these charges either. So they have invented it.
Two days later on 3 October, Catalonia was brought to a standstill by a general strike. Roads were blocked, borders and ports closed, as did most businesses, and most Catalans took to the streets. There was talk of an indefinite general strike. The King of all Spaniards sided with the Spanish government. In his appearance on television, he chided and threatened his disloyal subjects in a bellicose tone.
With the declaration of independence came the full introduction of article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, the imposition of direct rule from Madrid. Since then nine political and civil leaders have been falsely imprisoned on charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds, seven have gone into exile, most charged with the same offences, the rapper Josep Arenas (Valtònyc) was sent to jail but moved to Belgium, where we also find CDR activist Adrià Carrasco. Tamara Carrasco was arrested and charged and is confined to her town awaiting trial. Hundreds have been prosecuted for other offences by the Supreme and High Courts, many under hate crime legislation and the Gag Law. The lawfare waged by the Spanish judiciary on behalf of the Spanish government had the desired effect of decapitating the Catalan government, silencing its representatives and inhibiting the actions of the replacements for the jailed and exiled ministers forced on the Catalan government by the Constutional Court. It is the repression of a political class, Those in government now are cowed by the threat of legal action, financial ruin, exile or imprisonment, and this is acceptable in a European country, in the EU, in 2018?
Elections had been called in Catalonia by the Spanish government for 21 December. Candidate lists containing the names of many of those in prison and in exile were accepted. When the result of the unfair election was an implausible carbon copy of those held in 2015 – with a parliamentary majority, for pro-independence parties without a majority of the vote. However, the democratic will of the people was once again ignored. The candidates in prison and exile were unconstitutionally denied their right to exercise their mandate, Catalan voters’ wishes were not respected and their right to suffrage denied. Spanish unionism and its media spent a month deriding and mocking them. The result of the election wasn’t accepted. The list of human, civil and social rights breaches is now a litany of Spanish legal abuse.
* * *
One year on, most people are still traumatised. For many it has all been too much. Some have given up any involvement for their own sanity, some have lost sight of the objective, and some will not speak or hear of that day. Others decided to actively resist. They formed and joined groups, they acted despite the constant threat of legal action, they decided to fight, non-violently, all of them in their own ways, all of them volunteers, all of them doing it for free, for their beliefs, for their ideals and for their Republic.
There have been countless acts, events, demonstrations and concentrations protesting the repression by the Spanish State, all of them peaceful, many of them festive. It’s the Catalan way. And Catalan protestors have been beaten again since by the Catalan police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, returned to type by Spanish government control. There were the terrible police charges and a highly dangerous action by the mobile riot police unit – the BRIMO – when demonstrators surrounded the government delegation in Carrer Mallorca on 23 March angry that five more Catalan Ministers had been imprisoned.
No passarán; no problem
Immediately after one of the largest Diadas (Catalan national days) ever seen, came two actions that drew contrasting respponses from the Catalan police. Twice in the space of two weeks, and in defiance of the Catalan authorities, Catalan activists decided to block Spanish nationalist demonstrations. The first had been called by an anti-Catalan school platform and the second, last Saturday, was the ‘brainchild’ of Civil Guard and National Police union, Jusapol, who wanted to celebrate the ‘success’ of Operation Copernicus with a march into Plaça Sant Jaume – Catalonia’s Parliament Square – with the excuse of calling for pay parity with their fellow professionals in the Mossos; on the streets of Barcelona, two days before the anniversary of the terrible beating they had dished out to Catalan voters on 1 October. The politicisation of the Spanish judiciary and police has been one of the most frightening features of the last year, however much the Spanish government – of whatever colour – argue that in Spain there is a separation of powers and that Spain is a top democracy.
There has been much criticism of Camp Liberty, the Acampada per la llibertat, who pitched their tents on 11 September, the Diada, the national day, vowing that they would not pass. There has also been much criticism of the thousands who have turned out to support both actions. The night before the anti-Catalan school demonstration I was sitting in a deck chair in the middle of Plaça Sant Jaume at 3 am keeping the lookout company, joking about whether or not the fascists would come as they had threatened to in their groups. They didn’t, but I worried at how vulnerable they had seemed. I hoped they were being watched over. The night before the Jusapol demonstration the square was well populated although police had evicted the camp the previous Wednesday, breaking the tents with deliberate carelessness. When returned, the mattresses had been destroyed too.
Jusapol, who organised the latter demonstration had hoped to bus in police from all over the Spanish State. 10-15,000 officers they had hoped to attract. In the end, they barely numbered a thousand. The last time they had come they were being paid and had been more enthusiastic. Many who attended were not even police officers. It was unpleasant to see Spanish nationalists taking another chance to deride and insult the Catalans. A large number of demonstrators left the Square to face the Mossos on Via Laietana. In the spirit of the paper plane throwing at a recent demonstration, the long advertised Holi party was about to begin.
This second action last weekend has been heavily criticised for its ‘violence’, especially as some of those in the front line had masked up. The politicians and media making such claims have obviously never been at demonstrations in other parts of the world or seen riots in other cities. I have. They also choose to ignore the response of the Mossos to having their uniforms redesigned Holi-style. It was the series of predictable baton charges, all too familiar over the past year. Again the police ignored the rules about head shots and hitting people on the ground that we’re now used to. The Catalans still resist. Many are not prepared to raise their arms any more, but even if you lower them to protect yourself, you might get them broken by a rain of blows from a police officer’s baton. If not, it could be the ribs, or the head.
The Catalan authorities claimed that, had the Antifa broken through the police line there would have been carnage. As in Carrer Mallorca, there was no convincing attempt to do any such thing. It is a curious argument too when you consider that the it was easy to move from Plaça Sant Jaume to the ‘police’ march in Plaça Catalunya. To my amazement, if I’d wanted to, I could have walked straight into the middle of them. There were occasional attacks on those that had gone to face the fascist visitors from very angry Spanish nationalists who broke through flimsy police lines or were milling about outside the Jusapol march. There were false flag assaults again by supposedly ‘violent independentists’. And, of course, the police took many opportunities to beat those passing by, some of them trapped by scaffolding, running a gauntlet of blows. In total, there were seven arrests.
It is hard to believe this is mere carelessness on the part of the police. It was another of those traps, those situations in which a violent reaction was being provoked and then facilitated. But the traps are so clumsily set. When they don’t catch their prey, unionist politicians and media go on as if they had. It’s laughable really. The ‘independentist violence’ narrative was created as a basis for legal action against anyone challenging the Spanish, or Catalan authorities, to make people scared to act. It has been successful in the case of Catalan politicians, not just because of the constant threat that they will too end up in prison or exile, but also due the ever-present possibility that Article 155 will be reapplied and direct rule reintroduced, for which they don’t want to be held responsible. The repression has, however, only been partially effective with the ever-changing grassroots movement and people are taking to the streets again, tired of their politicians’ reluctance to act.
It is ridiculous to censure these people for expressing anger at what has happened to them, at the trauma and humiliations they have suffered. Are Catalans not allowed to be angry? Not only are they not allowed to be angry, they are not allowed to be Catalans, they are not allowed to be. Their existence is denied. And they have nothing to be ashamed of. The 1 October was an extraordinary example of collective intelligence. That unity has been systematically attacked and undermined by the power and the media. That is why I’m proud of the people who turned out to confront fascist provocation, to express their anger, and their rejection of everything that these people represent. They have every right to do so. I support and applaud them. I’m also proud to have met and spent time with people from the Camp.
Such people are an example to others. Among us perhaps there is another Xirinacs, the legendary Catalan activist who employed non-violent techniques, including hunger strikes, was imprisoned twice, once spent 12 hours a day in front of a Barcelona prison for 21 months demanding an amnesty law for political prisoners, and who committed suicide despairing of the cowardice of politicians.
Act of sovereignty
I have lived 75 years in the Catalan Countries
occupied by Spain, France – and Italy – for centuries
fighting against this slavery during all of my adult life.
A slave nation, a slave human being,
shame for Humanity and the Universe.
But a Nation will never be free
if her sons do not want to risk
their lives in her defence and liberation.
My friends, accept this final victorious end
of my combat to stress the fearfulness
of our leaders, who make masses out of People.
Today, my Nation becomes absolute sovereign in me.
They have lost a slave
she is a little more free
because I am in you, my friends!
Lluís M. Xirinacs i Damians, Barcelona, August 6, 2007
And, personally speaking, I am happy to take so many positive things out of the past year. It has been an education in every way. It has been a pleasure to listen and talk to so many interesting and committed people, from all walks of life, of all origins. I have enjoyed making new friends. I’ve also made a lot of new enemies, characterised by their shocking inhumanity, lack of humour, cruelty, stupidity, their nationalism, violence, lying, corruption, arrogance, abuse, racism, hatred, contempt and undisguised fascism. I’ve been shocked by the silence of most Spaniards. In recent years, the Catalans have shown solidarity in huge numbers, not only with other Spanish peoples, but also refugees, for example. Yet support from Spain is muted.
So this article is also a tribute to the Spaniards brave enough to publicly support Catalan Republicans, to those who tell the truth about what has happened in the past year, and about the Spanish State, despite the abuse and derision they are subject to. And a message of gratitude to the few from abroad who who have done the same, many of whom came to visit Catalonia for the Diada.
And for those in Catalonia who have lied systematically about these same events and the social situation, who have expressed solidarity only with the Spanish State and the Spanish police, and never with their fellow citizens who voted on 1 October, independentists and unionists alike, my utter contempt. Contempt also for the unionist politicians who have pushed the narrative of division within Catalan society, promoted conflict and confrontation, and all those who have been emboldened to provoke and attack independentists or people showing solidarity with political prisoners, verbally and physically, while at the same time claiming to be victims themselves.
The generally ignorant silence of the international community is less surprising, but Catalan Republicans have found it hard to swallow. The European Union has staunchly supported all of Spain’s abuses so far, while simultaneously castigating Hungary for a similar deterioration in the quality of its democracy. The probable hearings in the European Court of Human Rights remain a long way off. The Spanish judiciary and its subsidiaries in Catalonia are an absolute disgrace. Spain has one of the most politicised judiciaries in Europe.
* * *
It shouldn’t be forgotten that these events were preceeded by terror attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils, that the trauma of the past year came hot on the heels of other deeply painful events. Two of the people most responsible for the effective resolution of situation, Interior Minister, Quim Forn, and Major Trapero of the Mossos are also out of the picture. Forn is in prison awaiting trial on rebellion charges, amongst others, and Trapero will be tried for sedition, if the charges are not raised to rebellion.
Today, it’s heartwarming to see the Catalans commemorating such a dark anniversary with that curious mixture of righteous anger and good humour, cutting off roads, demonstrating, marching, calling for the resignation of the new Minister of the Interior, Miquel Buch, attending countless events across the country. It’s because they know that what they achieved a year ago was something great. It is the revolution paid for out of the people’s own pockets and with the people’s own time: the referendum, the civil organisations, the solidarity funds, the groups, all of it made possible by volunteers. I will never tire of telling the story of 1 October, 2017. It’s a story that has changed lives.