European Union Refuses Intervention in Catalan Independence

Oct. 13th, 2017

Jean-Claude Juncker at the EPP Forum in 2014. Photocredit: Wikicommons

Jean-Claude Juncker at the EPP Forum in 2014. Photocredit: Wikicommons

[Originally published in Barcelona Metropolitan on Oct. 13th, 2017]

The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said today that an intervention on the Catalan independence question “would create more chaos”, ruling out the possibility of the European Union’s intervention in the crisis between Catalunya and Spain. Juncker noted that an independent Catalunya would set a precedence for other independence movements in Europe. Juncker also noted that the EU, an intra-national governing body, cannot intervene in a nation’s affairs, a position that Emmanuel Macron, president of France, expressed this Tuesday in regards to the matter.

Juncker’s stance remains unchanged from the official statement issued after the Oct. 1st referendum, where the EU Commission called the Catalan independence movement “an internal affair for Spain”. Carles Puigdemont, in his address on Tuesday before Parliament, called for the EU “to get involved” in the affair.

The Catalan regional president faces a deadline of next Monday to clarify whether independence has been officially declared.

Calls for Unity and Prison on Spanish National Day

Oct. 12th, 2017

Protesters in the city's Plaça de Catalunya. Photocredit: Albert Han

Protesters in the city's Plaça de Catalunya. Photocredit: Albert Han

[Originally published in Barcelona Metropolitan on Oct. 12th, 2017]

Tens of thousands gathered today in the city centre to support the country’s unity on the National Day of Spain. An estimated 65,000 people, according to the City Hall of Barcelona, marched under the slogan “Catalonia yes, Spain too”. Chants of “Long Live Spain, Long Live Catalonia!” sounded throughout the rally, accompanied by “Puigdemont, go to prison!”, among other cries for unity.

Various groups organised the demonstration, including the Catalan Civil Society, which had arranged the previous demonstration last Sunday. In a statement before the Spanish parliament yesterday, prime minister Mariano Rajoy asked Puigdemont to clarify by next Monday “whether independence was declared or not” in the regional president’s speech before the Catalan Parliament on Tuesday.

In Madrid, King Felipe VI presided over the annual military parade, while members of the Spanish government and the presidents of autonomous communities also participated in the events. Puigdemont was absent, along with his counterparts from the Basque Country and Navarre.

Confusion and Disappointment As Puigdemont 'Suspends' Independence

Oct. 11th, 2017

Pro-separatists gathered at the city's Arc de Triomf to watch Puigdemont's speech. Photocredit: Albert Han

Pro-separatists gathered at the city's Arc de Triomf to watch Puigdemont's speech. Photocredit: Albert Han

[Originally published in Barcelona Metropolitan on Oct. 11th, 2017]

On a day when many called for him to declare independence, regional president Carles Puigdemont’s speech this evening instead evoked confusion and disappointment on the status of Catalan independence.

Miquel Iceta, leader of the Socialists’ Party in Catalonia (PSC), said in a parliamentary speech following Puigdemont that “a declaration cannot be suspended if it’s not declared,” highlighting the ambiguity of the regional president’s statement.  

Cheers turned into jeers among those who gathered at the pro-separatist demonstration near the Arc de Triomf. Just seconds after expressing that he has “the mandate for Catalunya to become a state”, Puigdemont asked for the effects of independence to be suspended, calling for dialogue with central authorities in Madrid in the next weeks.

“This is what we were expecting, but not what we wanted,” said David, 25, from Barcelona, who asked to withhold his last name. “I’m disappointed, because I wanted him [Puigdemont] to deliver on his promise for independence.” The law of referendum had stated that ‘if a majority declares yes, an ordinary parliamentary session will be held to formally declare independence, determine its effects, and begin the constituent process within two days of acknowledging the results of the referendum’.   

The Spanish government, which had refused any negotiations on the independence issue, has scheduled an emergency Council of Ministers’ meeting tomorrow at 9am to discuss their response to Puigdemont’s speech.

Independence Suspended In Favor of Dialogue

Oct. 10th, 2017

[Originally published in Barcelona Metropolitan on Oct. 11th, 2017]

Regional president Carles Puigdemont spoke before the Catalan Parliament today on the results of the Oct. 1st referendum. “We are not delinquent, nor crazy,” he said, explaining the reasons for which the controversial vote was held: the failed attempt to revise Catalonia’s statue of autonomy in 2005, an “aggressive and systematic program of recentralisation” by authorities in Madrid, and the unheeded calls for an agreed referendum on the future of Catalunya. On Oct. 1st, more than 2 million votes were cast, 90 percent of which were in favour of independence. “As president, I accept the responsibility of presenting the results of the referendum before our parliament and fellow citizens, the mandate that Catalunya becomes an independent state in the form of a republic,” he said.

Immediately after, Puigdemont proposed that the effects of independence be suspended to allow dialogue with central authorities in Madrid, without which “it is not possible to arrive at an agreed solution”. Despite the suspension, Puigdemont signed a declaration of independence after tonight’s parliamentary session, along with the signatures of members of government and pro-separatist parties, an act which has been interpreted as “more symbolic than legally binding”.

Puigdemont Prepares to Speak Before Parliament

Protesters during the national day of Catalonia, Sept. 11th, 2017. Photocredit: Albert Han

Protesters during the national day of Catalonia, Sept. 11th, 2017. Photocredit: Albert Han

Warnings and Support as the president of the Generalitat prepares to declare the results of the Oct. 1st referendum before the Catalan Parliament tomorrow. 

As regional president Carles Puigdemont prepares to declare the results of the October 1st referendum before the Catalan Parliament tomorrow, central authorities in Madrid emphasised the possible consequences of any declaration of independence. Pablo Casado, spokesperson of the Partido Popular (PP), said today that the Spanish government will take all measures to prevent independence, adding that “do not let history repeat itself, because they [the members of the Catalan government] will end like Lluís Campanys”. The statement was interpreted as a reference to the former Catalan president, who was arrested and imprisoned for declaring an independent republic in 1934.

It remains unclear if independence will be declared tomorrow. Leaders of the independence movement are divided over the details and effects of a possible declaration, which have already caused several major banks to move its headquarters. Nonetheless, the pro-separatist organization National Assembly of Catalonia has called for a demonstration in support of independence in front of the Parliament building tomorrow at 6 pm, at which time the session will begin.

Protests in Barcelona Today Against Independence Movement

Oct. 8th, 2017

Protesters against Catalan independence today in front of the regional government's building. Photocredit: Albert Han

Protesters against Catalan independence today in front of the regional government's building. Photocredit: Albert Han

Thousands took to the streets today in Barcelona to protest against the independence movement, calling for Spain to remain united. The Catalan Civil Society (Societat Civil Catalana), the anti-independence group which organized the demonstration, claimed that more than 930,000 people participated throughout the day, while the municipal police of Barcelona (Guardia Urbana) placed the number of protesters at 350,000.

The demonstration culminated at the city´s France Station (Estació de França), where the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa gave a speech in support of a unified Spain. Other leaders who were present at the demonstration included Josep Borrell, member of the Socialists' Party (PSOE) and former president of the European Parliament. Chants of "Long Live Spain!" were heard throughout the day, while protesters also gathered in front of the Catalan Government's Office, chanting "Puigdemont, to prison!".  

Protesters carry a banner in front of the Catalan government's office that reads: "Spain, We Are Together". Photocredit: Albert Han

Protesters carry a banner in front of the Catalan government's office that reads: "Spain, We Are Together". Photocredit: Albert Han

The protests came as Catalan president Carles Puigdemont has requested to appear before the Parliament of Catalonia on Tuesday in a likely declaration of unilateral independence. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has insisted that his government "will prevent any declaration of independence from taking place". 

10.05 News Roundup: Banks Leave; Catalan Parliament Session Suspended

The Daily Roundup surveys the most important headlines of the day surrounding the Referendum. Sources in Catalan, Spanish, and English are included and summarized wherever possible.

  • Economic repercussions: the Board of Directors of La Caixa, the third largest financial institution of Spain, announced today that it will convene this Friday to discuss the possible departure of its headquarters from Barcelona. The meeting, held in response to the possible independence of Catalonia, follows the announcement earlier today of another banking institution, Sabadell, that it will move its headquarters from Barcelona to the southern city of Alicante. [La Vanguardia]
  • Court bans independence meeting: the Constitutional Court of Spain today suspended the Catalan Parliament's session on Monday, Oct. 9th, the day on which independence is supposed to be declared. The Court warned the vice-president of Parliament, Carme Forcadell, and the Parliament's bureau that an attempt to hold Monday's session would incur legal consequences. [El País]

After Sunday's Referendum, Protests and Tensions Grow

Oct. 3rd, 2017

Photocredit: Albert Han

Photocredit: Albert Han

Ferran Estrada i Porta, 84, has lived through the Spanish Civil War, Franco's dictatorship, and the transition to democracy in Spain. "Yet I never thought it would reach this point," he said, waving his arms like an agitated orchestra director and leading chants amidst a demonstration on Monday night in Barcelona. Protesters holding cardboard signs and flowers gathered around him in the city's Via Laietana as he played Catalan songs and his barretina, a traditional Catalan hat, flopped with the rhythm: Els Segadors, the Catalan national anthem, and L'Estaca, a song from the dictatorship era by Catalan song-writer Lluís Llach that has become the hymn for independence. 

Protesters had gathered in front of the Spanish police headquarters in Barcelona since the afternoon to protest against police violence during the referendum this past Sunday. Shortly after voting stations opened at 9 a.m., images and videos circulated, showing protesters clashing against police: some were dragged on the floor, while others ran as anti-riot forces fired rubber bullets in the streets. The Department of Health of Catalonia noted in a statement that "893 people were treated for injuries". Despite the chaos, Catalans continued to vote throughout the day at voting stations that were not closed by the police.

The results of the referendum spelled a victory for pro-independentists: with almost 2.3 million votes cast, 90% voted 'yes', 7% 'no', and a participation rate of 42.3% among those eligible to vote. Regional president Carles Puigdemont declared that Catalonia "has won the right to statehood". However, the result was not without dispute: reports surfaced that some voters cast ballots more than once, others were not properly identified, and that the census used could not be verified. Though 'yes' overwhelmingly won the referendum, the number of voters represented 37.8% of the census. 

Students at the University of Barcelona planning a demonstration. Photocredit: Albert Han

Students at the University of Barcelona planning a demonstration. Photocredit: Albert Han

Still, Puigdemont called on the European Union to encourage international intervention as tensions heighten. Prime minister Rajoy said in a press statement following the referendum that "there was no independence referendum in Catalonia today".  The European Commission issued a statement on Oct. 2nd condemning the use of violence, but reiterated that the issue "has to be dealt with in line with the constitutional order of Spain".

For many Catalans, the police violence on Sunday aroused even stronger feelings of oppression from the Spanish state. A region-wide strike is planned today, as public transportation services are reduced and the region's highways are shut down by protesters. Thousands will march in Barcelona and other cities to condemn police violence.

Photocredit: Albert Han

Photocredit: Albert Han

On Monday night, groups of young people already took to the streets in protest. At times their chants synchronized with the octogenarian's trumpet's blare, and after each song, they took turns to pose for photos with Estrada, hugging him and thanking his performances. A young woman stood near Ferran, an independence estelada flag draped over her shoulders. She held a sign in her hands, high in the air for everyone to read: "we are the grandchildren of grandparents whom you have beaten". 

The Eve of Referendum: What to Know and What to Expect

Catalans will vote tomorrow on whether their region should become independent. Here’s what you need to know.

Sept. 30th, 2017

Pro-independentists distributing information on the referendum in Barcelona. Photocredit: Albert Han

Pro-independentists distributing information on the referendum in Barcelona. Photocredit: Albert Han

What is the Catalan Referendum?

Catalonia will have a binding referendum tomorrow, Oct. 1st. Those who are residents in the region will be able to vote on the question, “do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?” The referendum law was passed by the two main separatist parties (Junts Pel Sí and Esquerra Republica Catalana) in the Catalan Parliament on Sept. 6th , with regional president Carles Puigdemont as the de facto leader of the independence movement.

Why do some Catalans want independence?

For years the independence movement was supported by a small number of Catalans, gaining momentum only when the region’s revised statute of autonomy failed to gain approval in 2010. Economic problems played a big role in the movement’s ascent: many complain that Catalonia contributed a disproportionate amount of taxes to central authorities in Madrid, while not receiving enough funding for basic needs in the region.

Underlying the economic argument is a strong sense of nationalism and the struggle for autonomy. Throughout the Middle Ages Catalonia had maintained its own laws and institutions, only to lose them in 1714 when the Bourbon king Philip V abolished autonomy and suppressed Catalan language and culture. During the 19th century, its rise as an industrial powerhouse fueled a wave of nationalism and the call for autonomy; an autonomous Catalonia was brief during the 20th century, and Franco’s dictatorship (1939 – 1975) following the Spanish Civil War saw further repression of Catalan society.

The experiences of the past three hundred years instilled a strong sense of nationalism and autonomy in Catalans. No longer satisfied with present relations with Madrid, many Catalans believe that their region, with its own distinct language, culture, and traditions should run its own affairs.

What is Madrid’s position?

The referendum law was declared illegal by the Constitutional Court of Spain, while authorities in Madrid, led by prime minister Mariano Rajoy and the minority governing People’s Party (Partido Popular) vowed to prevent the referendum from taking place. Faced with a secession that is deemed as “the biggest political crisis since 1978”, Rajoy has repeatedly said that there won’t be a referendum.

In response, the Attorney General’s office cited more than 700 municipal mayors in Catalonia who could face charges of disobedience, perversion of justice, and the misuse of public funds for supporting the referendum. Under orders from the Madrid, national police have raided printing offices in search of voting ballots and materials, shut down Catalan websites connected to the referendum, and detained key members of the Catalan government.

What are the polls saying?

The latest poll, conducted by the Institute of Opinion Review and published by the Catalan newspaper Ara.cat on Sept. 16th showed that 69.9% of voters would vote in favor of independence with a turnout rate of 60.2%.

How have tensions arisen?

Relations between Catalonia and Madrid have worsened over the past few weeks. Following the arrest of 14 cabinet members, thousands took to the streets to protest, calling Rajoy’s government a throwback to the dictatorship era. University students have gone on strike Thursday and Friday to voice their support by holding large. The central government has deployed thousands of police officers for fear of violence, while the Attorney General, José Manuel Maza, suggested that Puigdemont could be arrested for holding the referendum. Police forces have been ordered to prevent voting stations from opening on Sunday morning, while organizers have called for citizens to occupy voting stations from Friday night to Sunday to guarantee the referendum will take place.  

The referendum has gained supporters and detractors across Spain: demonstrations voiced their support for the Catalan referendum in the Basque Country and Galicia, where separatist movements are present, while right-wing Falangists are planning demonstrations in cities across the country to support the unity of Spain.

What is the international response to the Catalan referendum?

Although viewed as an internal affair, the referendum has elicited international responses as tensions continue to rise. The United Nations Office of the High Commission issued a statement on Sept. 28th urging Spanish authorities to not “interfere with the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, and public participation”. President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said in a live interview that “we will respect a Catalan vote”, while noting that an independent Catalonia would have to rejoin the EU.

What will happen if a majority of Catalans vote ‘yes’?

The referendum law stated that the region will declare independence within 48 hours if a majority votes for yes. Afterwards, what would happen is hard to predict. However, Madrid has promised to do everything it can to prevent a secession.

Municipal Police Guards Ballot Boxes Site, As Referendum Intervention Continues

The municipal police of Barcelona (Guardia Urbana) arrived this morning to guard the city's garages, where ballot boxes for the Oct. 1st referendum and other election materials were being held. A police truck and several officers secured the entrances to the garages, located in the city's outskirts, and allowed no one to enter or leave, according to the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia. Sources said that the police were acting on orders from the district Attorney General's office to prevent electoral materials that belong to the Spanish state from being moved elsewhere.

The police are likely to remain there until this Sunday, when the referendum is scheduled to take place. This came as the High Court of Justice of Catalonia ordered police forces across Catalonia to stop the use of public spaces during the Oct. 1st referendum.