The Catalan Referendum – people want the right to vote

Catalan, referendumIt is a rainy grey day in Cornwall and I am sitting down to write here after a very long pause.

What has forced me back to the computer?  What has broken the spell of the writer’s block that has hung like those Cornish clouds over my blog?

Today I am watching scenes in Catalunya that are bringing tears to my eyes.

There is a referendum due on October 1st. Have you heard about it?  Perhaps if you follow the news from Catalunya you will know that the Catalan people want to vote to say if they want to separate from Spain or to stay. You may even have noticed that the Spanish central government has banned this referendum and said it will not be allowed to happen.

But do you know what is going on today?  Raids, arrests, threats, interference in a peaceful democratic process which is bullying of the worst kind.

There are no attempts by the Spanish government to discuss, negotiate or try to find a peaceful resolution.

  • First Catalan politicians tried to change the constitution to create equality between all autonomous communities.   Refused
  • Then they tried to negotiate with the Spanish government to create a fairer financial arrangement.    Refused
  • They organised a consultation in 2014 to ask if Catalan people wanted independence. A referendum was banned by the Spanish government and even the consultation was not officially permitted to take place.    Banned
  • Charges were brought against the organisers of the ‘Consultation’ and the then President has been banned for two years from political life as a result. Banned

Some news in English continues to speak of ‘Catalan separatists’ as if they are a strange vocal group of nationalists who can be seen waving flags and shouting slogans. Others are more condescending and try to convince the reader that those who want the right to vote are angry left-wingers who want to cause trouble. More sympathetic voices may explain that there is a long history to this movement and that it is partly caused by the refusal of the Madrid government to negotiate or discuss the many grievances that people in Catalunya have about their treatment – financial, cultural and social – since the beginnings of democracy in Spain.

But from all that I know and have experienced these people are just people – hundreds of thousands of people. Not activists or nationalists or trouble-makers or extremists. Ordinary people with their families, their workmates, their neighbours and their friends.  People like you and me who want to vote because they have been pushed too far into a corner with no other option but to want to leave the entity called Spain.

Can we call it democracy when some regions are treated differently from others?

Is it democracy to favour some areas with funding and investment and deliberately deprive others (Catalunya for example) of proper roads, schools, health services? When Catalunya pays more in taxes than other areas but receives not just a shoddy return but a return which is intended to act as a punishment.

Punishment for what?  For being a wealthy area, for being Catalans with a strong and different culture, for having been strongly and bravely republican in the Civil War and its aftermath?

I believe that democracy allows people to vote and to have their voices heard. The referendum is only asking people what has been a question in the hearts of many for years.

“Do you want Catalunya to be an independent country in the form of a republic?”

But this question is seen as illegal.

The police are right now detaining officials in the Catalan government. They are raiding offices, confiscating written documents. The finances of the Catalan government have been taken under control by Madrid. Mayors from hundreds of towns have been harassed and threatened with arrest.

People are thronging the streets in Barcelona and calling for the right to vote.

And we who are looking on from outside, from the UK, or Europe or North America or anywhere else in the world, we need to be witnesses to this threat to democracy, to this bullying and violence. We are watching and need to send our support.

Pep Guardiola, the former coach of Barcelona Football Club said, “We are just asking that people be allowed to vote for a better life”

I say that the moment has come to stand up for democracy, for peaceful negotiation, for respectful discussion and for international support to those who want to vote.

One last thing I want to say is this. There are many people who love Barcelona – who have visited the city and enjoyed the Ramblas and the tapas and the beach. Perhaps the city has stolen your heart as it did mine.  But if you love Barcelona then you must support the people of Catalunya in their struggle to be free of an extremely oppressive and repressive regime. We cannot just be tourists who take what we want and then ignore the real life of those who live in that country. Please do one thing to send support.

Tweet your support with hashtags like #Catalandemocracy. Write something on Facebook to draw attention to what is happening today. Share this post if you feel inclined. Email the EU Commissioner Jean-Claude Juncker as I did or write to the newspapers.  Or if you are in Barcelona then go and join the protests or offer to be an observer at the referendum.

Let’s stand alongside the Catalans today.



Photo credit: keith ellwood via / CC BY


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