Guest post by María Palomares Arenas, Director of Calala Fondo de Mujeres
In Catalonia we are experiencing an extraordinary situation like nothing we have seen before. The political conflict between the Government of Catalonia and the Government of Spain has reached a point where we are beginning to be afraid of what might happen.
The aim of the Catalan government and the independence movements to separate from Spain and create an independent state via a Unilateral Declaration of Independence has been met with the full force of the State, together with a block of organisations that defend the unity of Spain shutting of all forms of negotiation, and with the King, who is head of state and head of the armed forces, warning that force will increase.
Both parties to the conflict have a serious democratic deficit which they must address. The Catalan government must deal with 50% of the population that does not vote for political parties clearly aligned with calls for independence. The Government of Spain must handle its lack of an overall majority in Parliament, the disproportionate use of force against the civilian population, and all cases of corruption that continue to explode in their hands.
In the Catalan government's favour is the mobilisation of a large swathe of the Catalan population that wants to be consulted in an independence referendum, whereas the Government of Spain is relying on the indifference, or rather the favourable position, of the European Commission and EU member states who have no appetite for a new conflict that threatens to dismantle its borders.
The tense situation reached its climax on 1 October when the referendum, considered illegal by the Spanish government, was held. 2.5 million people voted, which is more or less half the number eligible to vote. They faced action by the National Police, a police force that had no authority to operate in Catalonia according to the agreements establishing the Statute of Autonomy. The action was one of premeditated and selective violence, aimed at creating fear and showing who has the legitimate use of force and how they want to use it.
Now we need all the support you can give us. We ask you to watch what is happening in Catalonia.
The police charges and the people wounded on referendum day are being recorded by various independent human rights bodies: from the SomDefensoras network, launched by international solidarity and human rights bodies in Catalonia, to other organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The police action was premeditated and selective, since it began at precisely 9 am, when the polling stations opened, and happened throughout Catalonia to increase fear among the population and stop them from voting. In Barcelona the violence took place in large polling stations where it would influence more voters, and throughout the rest of Catalonia. The Civil Guard even arrived at villages with 50 or 100 inhabitants to stir up fear.
Faced with police violence and the lack of dialogue and negotiation between governments and political parties involved in the conflict, we should highlight the clearly non-violent response that civil society organisations have had to the situation of tension and conflict that we are experiencing. This peaceful movement is the Catalans' trump card, which the Spanish government wants to tear up at all costs.
It is well known throughout Spain and Europe that Catalonia has a strong and organised civil society. To give just a few examples, I want to stress the diversity and robust organisation of the feminist movement which has considerable resources and partnerships; the mobilisation and self-organisation of migrants, whose voice is recognised within social movements; the network of the social and cooperative economy, the strongest in all of Spain, capable of supporting a parallel economic sector; and the networks and organisations that make up the 15-M Movement.
All these links in a long chain of mobilisation are organised and connected to defend people's right to decide. In each neighbourhood, in each village, Referendum Defence Committees have been organised, bringing together independence activists and civil society organisations that work in other areas, to ensure that all people could vote on 1 October, whether ‘yes’ or ‘no’, at the polling stations. And from day 1 they worked to organise the general strike called by anarchist and minority trade unions for 3 October.
WhatsApp and online groups have strengthened in the days before 1 October. Every family, every university, every group of friends and every organisation received messages with instructions on how to act. The messages emphasised peaceful and non-violent action and the importance of caring for each other. These messages were key to coordinating people's response to the police charges. At the Ramon Llull University in Barcelona people shouted "We are peaceful people" with their hands in the air, when the police began to charge indiscriminately. Coordinating the defence of polling stations was also essential. From 5 am in the morning each polling station was defended by dozens or hundreds of people who joined forces at the doors to protect them from possible police action.
On the subject of polling stations, I want to highlight the involvement of groups of mothers and fathers of students, who did everything they could to ensure that their neighbours could go out and vote, and to protect the facilities. They are from a state school that has been largely neglected by the current independence government, which clearly promotes private education and has savagely cut the education budget.
Speaking of the public education system, university students from state universities were very involved with the referendum day and the previous and subsequent days of mobilisation. From 27 September classes were suspended and they occupied university campuses to protest against the Spanish government's actions. Firefighters have also been prominent, having publicly declared and followed through on their intention to protect polling stations and people against police violence.
The underground network that was created to provide booths, papers and documentation in conjunction with the electoral roll and polling stations and organised by independence parties also deserves a special mention.
A large swathe of Catalan society is being mobilised. We have experienced an extraordinary situation since 20 September when the government decided to arrest the Government of Catalonia and made it clear that its response to the conflict would include force. The conflict has escalated because the Catalan government too has not stemmed the tide and plans to declare independence unilaterally on Monday, 9 October.
This situation has led to a great deal of concern, and again civil society is organising itself to mobilise international human rights networks and contacts with other social movements in Spain to call for greater involvement and especially international observation, helping to reduce the potential for violence, with the threat of invoking Article 155 of the Spanish constitution to intervene in the government of Catalonia and send in the army.
Now we need all the support you can give us. We ask you to watch what is happening in Catalonia and mobilise your contacts so that you can receive information from them. We are not alone.