University of Memphis

Beat them into Submission: Catalan Protest and the Move Towards Declaring Independence By Shemaiah J. Moss @ University of Memphis

The Spanish police blocked the entrance of a Barcelona school that was to be used as a polling station in the Catalan independence referendum on Sunday. Credit Emilio Morenatti/Associated Press

The resurgence of political protests in the United States seemed to be an anomaly to the less politically engaged citizens, but they along with the rest of the world began to realize that political protests are not restricted to certain regions. Political protests are utilized by many different regions when citizens are unhappy with the incumbent government. These protests can occur at any time, especially during times in which citizens feel a sense of protection by the regime in place. In this instance, the level of Democracy is important no matter which variation of Democracy the region embraces. Labeling the regime, a Democracy, does not guarantee that rights normally protected by a Democratic system will be upheld by the government. This is most certainly the reality for many people who reside in regions that claim to be Democratic, but are experiencing some form of Democratic Erosion. Spain is an example of this phenomenon because the political atmosphere has been very tumultuous, which has lead this region to become the focus of international spectators.

At the beginning of October, the world was gasping at the seemingly unprovoked violent response of officers in Spain. The story, which depicted unarmed citizens being bludgeoned by the local police force to prevent them from voting, was covered on various media outlets. Images of distraught citizens bleeding from the head and other grave areas of their bodies were shocking. It appeared that the high political tension wass distracting people from maintaining normative levels of civility. Spain was desperately attempting to maintain control over Catalonia, a region that has been hoping for a chance at independence, by beating expectant voters into submission. Some people who reside in Catalonia feel that it is unjust for Catalonia to remain a dependent of Spain because their economic system is flourishing. Spain has heavily relied on Barcelona as a steady stream of economic support, but one must not forget that Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia. Spain has permitted Catalonia to exist partially autonomously. Yet, independence has not been a valid option, as stated in Spain’s constitution.

This constitution has been a point of agreement among both supporters and opponents of Catalonia’s bid to independence. No matter whether one supports a motion for independence or rejects it, there has been acknowledgement that claiming independence is an act of defiance to Spain. This call for independence is not a recent occurrence, but rather an issue that has been festering for more than a decade. In the past, Spain attempted to avoid the resurgence of feelings of oppression by awarding Catalonia more autonomy. After realizing that this motion would not calm the oncoming storm, Spain rescinded specific clauses of the agreement to tighten the grasp on Catalonia.

The Financial Times says that the separatist government realized their electoral promise of declaring independence by means of a populist challenge to the integrity of Spain.
Immediately after the declaration of Catalonia’s independence, Spain utilized its power to sabotage the Catalan government. All political actors were removed from office; the entire institution disassembled. The European Union publicly rejected to support Catalonia’s claim of independence. Spain’s great demand was that the “election” take place again on a later date. Under a Democracy there should be free and fair elections, but allegedly Catalan government officials decided to make this decision independently of citizens’ votes according to Spain. This claim seems to contradict other reports that suggest that voters dared to protest for independence by actively voting for this forbidden referendum while police attempted to  violently hinder the process. 
The officials who enacted this referendum have fled to other regions to escape pending charges against them which range from embezzlement to rebellion.  Belgium was unhappy with the violence exerted on the citizens of Catalonia, therefore has decided not to cooperate with the extradition of several Catalan leaders who fled persecution by residing in Belgium. The next “election” will take place in December. Meanwhile, the political instability of this region is growing increasingly more unstable by the day.

1 Comment

  1. Amalia Perez

    December 4, 2017 at 8:02 pm

    You have shed light on a crisis of existential proportions. Your argument against the Spanish governments crackdown is well-taken. I do, however, want to shift the conversation towards an interrogation of Catalonian authorities’ role in orchestrating and precipitating instability, violence, and democratic erosion.

    The prototypical pro-separatist Catalonian is, 1) wealthy and 2) has deep familial roots in the region. Albert Rivera, president of Cataluña’s Ciudadanos party, candidate for prime minister of Spain, and staunch anti-separatist advocate, noted this key characteristic of the separatist movement. The separatist movement is one not rooted in values, regional pride, or sovereignty, so much as it is a quasi-populist, nationalistic, anti-pluralist movement rooted in a rejection of the “out-group” and a desire to insulate [the wealth of] the in-group. Rivera extends this underbelly of the separatist movement to argue the following: “not all democratic principles can be put to popular vote. Civil rights are not negotiable.”

    I tend to agree. I do not say this to justify the Spanish central governments’ violent crack-down on innocent Catalonians. There is not, nor will there ever be, a justification for the bludgeoning of a people and their right to democracy.

    Rather, I agree with Rivera so to emphasize how the Catalonian separatist movement has coopted the façade of democratic ideals a lá anti-pluralist populism to obscure the fact that their movement has roiled Catalonia, its people, its economy, and its world standing, for the sake of maintaining a tight grip on wealth and in the belief that Catalonians are linguistically and culturally superior. In doing so, they are eroding democracy as much as the Spanish governments’ authorities that cracked down on voters.

    The movement is promoting “exclusionary nationalism,” as Rivera refers to it, masked as sovereignty. This sort of patriotism sounds oddly familiar…

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