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".