Sunday (Oct 1) will be remembered by the people of Catalonia as a day of violence against a nation of people who peacefully attempted to hold a referendum on whether or not to seek independence from Spain.
Despite the attempts of the Spanish authorities to prevent the referendum, which they claim was illegal, it went ahead and saw the people of Catalonia, voting overwhelmingly for independence. It has been a contentious referendum with the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, saying that the vote was illegal, Spain’s constitutional court having banned it.
Thousands of Catalan people had been protesting peacefully leading up to the referendum with the main Catalan Universities and schools being emptied for students to take part. It led to the Spanish authorities accusing the Catalan authorities of indoctrination in the education system.
The violence erupted outside and inside polling booths where voting was taking place. Ballot boxes were ripped away from staff within the polling stations and voters attacked by the Guardia Civil, the Spanish and National Police.
Catalonia’s president Carles Puigdemont said: “Faced with cowardice of those who use violence and the resources of the state I admire and am moved by the courage of thousands of citizens who are defending ballot boxes and polling statins to allow people to vote. Spain is showing that it only has force and imposition as arguments to convince Catalans.”
Ada Colau the Mayor of Barcelona demanded an end to police actions that ‘violate the basic norms of democracy’.
Defending the actions of the Spanish government and the enforcement officers acting upon the judicial system Spanish Vice President Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said: “The absolute irresponsibility of the Catalan government has been replaced by the professionality of the security forces. They have complied with the judicial system and behaved with professionalism and proportionality.”
President of Spain Mariano Rajoy said: “Spanish and National Police and the Guardia Civil fulfilled their duty and with justice on their side. We did what we had to so. We are the Spanish government I am the Spanish president and I accept my responsibility.”
Raul Romeva Minister of Foreign Affairs said: Spain is violating fundamental rights and therefore should be penalised by the EU. There has clearly been criminal activity and something I will take to the European Courts.
“So I announce we will start due procedures to activate prevention and sanctioning mechanisms envisioned in article 7 of the EU treaty to denounce the action of the Spanish state.
The #SpainOutOfEu reached 40,000 retweets and social media has been in meltdown with supporters of the Catalan referendum and supporters of Spain’s actions to prevent the vote taking place making their feelings known.
Article 7 of the European Union Treaty has been cited as something, which should be invoked to suspend Spain from the EU.
Those arguing for EU intervention claim that Article 7 is in effect “Suspension of any Member State that uses military force on its own population.”
Neither Article 7 nor Article 2 mentions “military force” at any point.
Article 2 states: The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.
King Felipe VI of Spain has branded the Catalan government as “irresponsible” for its independence campaign and accused Catalonia’s authorities of having placed themselves outside the law and democracy in an attempt to break the unity of Spain and national sovereignty.
The debate on whether the EU should intervene is one in which some observers claim has no substance and opt for focusing attention on the Spanish government itself for what Catalans are claiming is criminal activity and a violation of the norms of democracy.
Members of Parliament from a number of EU countries have voiced their concerns including Plaid Cymru’s Adam Price AM/AC who travelled to Catalonia as part of an international delegation observing the independence referendum.
Llanelli MP and Shadow Secretary for State Nia Griffith spoke to Llanelli Online about her views on the violence in Catalonia.
She began by saying: “We are all very saddened that it descended into such heavy handed tactics. I think we are very shocked that in a sophisticated Western democracy these were the tactics being used because it won’t help anybody in the long run. I think what everybody needs now s a period of calm, a period of coming together so they can talk about the future. It is very complex because clearly there are very strongly held views but there is a range of views too.
There have been talks about some sort of a road map and there have been talks about different forms of accommodation. The issue is that we have a very rich area in Catalonia and quite clearly they are thinking they could manage to go it alone. Quite clearly that is not in any way what the Spanish state overall want. It is a very young democracy. I think we have to remember it is only forty years since being a dictatorship. I think we have to congratulate Spain really on the massive progress it has made immense progress in terms of freedom of speech, democratic processes becoming a very modern democracy and has coped relatively well with the appalling financial crisis that we all faced in 2007.
Of course that has been a real set back as it has for all of us. We need a period of calm and a period opportunity to bring people together rather than becoming even more polarised and moving further and further apart. Clearly there will be immense hurt and anger following what happened at the weekend. I don’t think anything is going to be served by perpetuating that. We have got to de-escalate those tensions. These are genuine democratic people in a democratic free speech society. There must be a better way of coping and dealing with things than letting things descend into what looked like street brawls to us.”
Asked whether she expected the EU to act on the results of the Catalan referendum Nia Griffith said: “I think there are proper legal procedures. Spain is a democracy. There are legal ways of talking about things, looking at things and interpreting things. That is why we don’t want it to end up with people getting hurt. It is fundamentally first and formally a Spanish issue. In terms of which legal channels you use of course there are channels where things can be challenged. We need to get back to ways in which all civilised democracies want to deal with it, which is about talking which is about looking at the legality, which is about not letting things slip into a situation where people get hurt.”
We asked the MP if she believed that International Observers should have been sent in earlier to monitor the situation? She replied: “I don’t think anybody anticipated exactly how things were going to work out on Sunday. Clearly there had been issues about was it legal or was it not legal. Computers had been seized and people were being told to download ballot papers themselves because they hadn’t been delivered.
We asked Nia Griffith if she would be raising her concerns in Parliament about the way the Catalan people had been treated by the Spanish authorities. Nia replied: “Clearly there were huge tensions building up to the situation. The real point now is getting back to talking and dealing with it through the legal procedures. Clearly it is a matter for A) Spain and B) the EU at this point.”