State of Independence II
A second set of film images of the independence movement protests, this time taken outside of the Universidad de Barcelona.
This event was very carefully orchestrated to try to portray Catalunya as if it was an oppressed nation under the control of a distant dictatorship in Madrid. Carnations were distributed as a deliberate reference to the 1975 Carnation Revolution in Portugal. The protest group also openly arranged to print and distribute ballot papers for the planned illegal referendum, openly challenging the Guardia Civil’s confiscation of ballot materials in the last week.
Here in Spain, the Spanish central government is currently controlled by People’s Party (PP). The PP is a descendant of the Franco regime and still raises troubling echoes of Spain’s difficult and unreconciled past. The party is directly responsible for inflaming nationalistic tensions with an inflexible hard-line approach to the autonomy of Catalunya and its secessionists – from interventions on language teaching to, most recently, the deplorable attempts to silence free speech by shutting down access to independence related websites. Despite this, Spain’s government is democratically elected and the Catalan independence movement’s portrayal of it as a fascist dictatorship comparable to Franco, the Estado Novo or Erdogan’s Turkey is a grotesque distortion of the truth that also diminishes the horrific reality of what it is to live under a genuine dictatorship.
The Catalan government, headed by Carles Puigdemont, has stated that Catalunya no longer recognises Spanish constitutional law and that if the referendum does not go ahead Catalunya will unilaterally break away from Spain anyway. In effect, Catalunya is already operating under an assumption of independence, with the parliamentary process for authorising the referendum and the secession violating not just Spanish law, but also Catalunya’s own requirement for at least a 2/3 parliamentary majority to pass changes to the statutes of autonomy.
Seen in this context, the purpose of the referendum is not to exercise a democratic right, but it is instead a process to justify and legitimise decisions that have already been taken. Much of what is happening here appears designed to demonise the Spanish state, portraying Catalunya as an oppressed nation breaking free from a tyrant. This message is targeted at two distinct audiences: the first within Catalunya, to reinforce support for the independence movement, and the second the international community, in an attempt to avoid international resistance to a unilateral declaration of independence. Unsurprisingly there have been representations made to both the EU and the UN, and events are carefully staged with ballot boxes and posters labelled in English.
Tellingly, there is no meaningful attempt at rational discussion of what independence would mean, and discussions on the form of a future constitution are being deliberately postponed until after Catalunya has split from Spain, thereby avoiding an immediate breakup of the fragile Junts pel Si political coalition. Instead, the independence campaigners’ rhetoric largely follows a simplistic and emotionally driven nationalistic narrative that parallels similar campaigning from groups such as UKIP in the UK and the Tea Party in the US. Appeals are made over sovereignty, culture or “unfair” collection/allocation of tax money. Detailed realities, possibilities and problems are completely glossed over, with issues such as continued EU membership, trade, administration, pensions and any Spanish State entities that currently are based in Catalunya are all waved away as trivial concerns (hint: look at the UK – they are not).
Above all, a referendum based on only a simple majority in a simplistic yes/no vote with no validity threshold and no detailed understanding of what is even meant by “independence” is not an exercise in democracy.
It is unclear how the current situation here in Catalunya and Spain will be resolved. There is some indication that the street and student protests here in Barcelona are loosing momentum, with the event photographed here drawing significantly fewer attendees than previous demonstrations. Also, while most Catalans rightly want the opportunity for a vote, it seems likely that only a minority would vote in favour of it if a realistic and informed independence referendum and campaign could be staged. Madrid could defuse the situation considerably by recognising this and listening to the peoples’ concerns and needs on both the referendum and other issues.
Meanwhile, there are significant numbers of Guardia Civil now stationed in or shortly arriving in Catalunya in an attempt to prevent the illegal ballot taking place. At the moment, it seems probable that tensions and the risk of violent clashes will only increase in the run up to the 1st October.