This morning I woke up worrying again. It was the day Rajoy had demanded an answer from Puigdemont. You see Rajoy hadn’t understood Puigdemont speech and still wasn’t sure if he had declared inde or not.
He had. And then he suspended it a few seconds later. Calling for dialogue and mediation and a peaceful solution.
But Rajoy being an authoritarian sort of fellow sent a letter asking for a yes or no answer. By Monday, at 10am by the latest.
This morning came Puigdemont’s reply.
Rajoy response, ‘No’
And he added ‘ you have till Thursday at 10am to answer me, or else’
What would you do in this situation? You need to talk with someone about problems and unfairness in your relationship and they refuse to speak with you or even meet you. You try and you try but after years of this intransigence you decide you must leave altogether. Then the other person wakes up to what they might lose but rather than talking with you about it, they send in the heavies to beat you up and then threaten you with prison. And refuse to let you go.
And still refuse to talk.
What would you do?
Puigdemont has impressed me with his calm steadiness. He’s not scared or weakened. He has courage and is mature enough to keep calm when under massive pressure. I find that I trust him.
Rajoy is pathetic. But he controls the bullie boys, he is willing to do harm, he doesn’t want a resolution but to save his own skin with his voters.
So what happens next? One of his judges (and Spanish judges are political animals) has imprisoned two of the leaders in the independence movement. Not yet moving in on Puigdemont, they have tried and sentenced Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez.
That will really calm things down….not!
Tonight there were cassolades all round Catalunya. Popular protest, after dark, banging saucepans, creating a noise. Lasting about 15 minutes. It’s impressive to hear and to do.
There is a General Strike here in Catalunya. It was called over a week ago in support of the referendum process but since the Spanish police violence on October 1st, it is now bigger than ever in response to the horrific scenes that day and to the deafening silence of the EU leaders.
Many of the main roads are blocked in various places causing long tailbacks. Cars are also driving very slowly in support of the strike. Those who know me will understand that this is my type of protest! Slow driving until Catalunya becomes independent!
People are not going to work and those that do are finding the trains and metro are on minimum service.
People are asked not to go shopping, not to support those businesses that are breaking the strike. ‘Not even a coffee’
There are deomonstrations all over Catalunya. Peaceful, musical, inclusive and very well supported. We are talking about everyday people of all ages. Not ‘protestors’ or ‘separatists’ as the general european media likes to describe them.
Firefighters are protesting and calling for investigations into the police brutality. They have a big demonstration in Barcelona right now.
Today I am in the Emporda, watching the vote in the referendum while staying with friends about 15 minutes from Figueres.
I drove Pep to the station this morning to catch an early train to Granollers. He voted there but I don’t have a vote so wanted to take a tour of some polling stations here.
Here is the other side to the news of state violence that beat and bullied peaceful voters. This was the atmosphere that I experienced – and it is how it should have stayed if the Military police had not been ordered to intervene.
Figueres – we saw several places early in the morning with queues of people waiting patiently and peacefully to vote. The community actions to keep the voting stations open had worked. Some had not been opened by their directors and some had been closed by the police but in general most places were open and people were gathering first to vote and then to protect those votes in their boxes.
Ordis – a small village of only a few hundred people. As I drove in I noticed a four wheel drive parked near the roundabout. I wasn’t able to confirm this but I imagine this and other similar outposts were to stand guard and give warning should the Spanish police arrive. Outside the church there were tables with food and drink and lots of people were milling about, chatting and laughing……and voting. There were children running through the quiet sunny streets calling ‘Votarem. Votarem.’
We will vote!
Borrassa -I drove about ten minutes away to the next village – much larger but still a small community. There the entrances to the main square were blocked with large hay bales. There were notices on the bales saying “Activities for children. No cars”
Inside the square there were more tables, around two hundred people, families gathering to eat and chat and to vote. They were voting in the Ajuntament.
There was music and a party atmosphere.
But a party with determination. A party with serious intent. Fun and calm but vigilant.
Two people spoke to me to ask about Zero my border collie. He is a great ice-breaker. We chatted about dogs then I moved on. I am so glad that I speak Catalan. Looking like an obvious outsider felt strange because these voting arrangements were so communal, so familial. And I can see the necessity of caution. Especially given what has happened since.
There were two Mossos – police from the Catalan force. They were standing quietly at the corner of the square and some people came to offer them something to drink and eat.
You can see them in the bottom left of the photo. There was no feeling of threat at all.
Roses is a town on the coast. I went there to see how voting was going on in a touristic area. It was hot and sunny and there were lots of visitors walking along the promenade. Many of them probably didn’t even know there was a referendum. It is the odd thing about tourism – you spend time in a place yet rarely delve beneath the surface of sun and sand and beer.
I felt dislocated and odd. Where were the banners? Where would people be voting?
Deeper into the town I found the Ajuntament – the council offices – acting as a polling station. Again Zero helped me meet people. He attracted a little girl of about three called Valentina and I got chatting with her mother and her friend. Again the relief that I can speak Catalan even when I can’t always understand the answers. They were very emotional about voting and felt strongly that things have to change. Also sad that it has to be done in this cloak and dagger way. They stressed how much this matters to the old people – who have waited all their lives to vote and to have a chance to free Catalunya from the authoritarian rule of Spain.
Again two members of the Catalan police force – the Mossos – were just standing quietly nearby and causing no problems at all.
I was going to take a peaceful walk on the beach after this. In between visits to towns and villages I was listening to the Catalan news on the radio and more and more stories were coming through about attacks on voters by the Spanish police and threats and violence against people of all ages, who were trying to vote and to protect other voters. It was feeling increasingly worrying and intense. Barcelona was being hard hit.
We read of the violence against suffragette women who wanted to vote but listening to what was happening here in Catalunya brought home the huge struggle people have always had in fighting for democracy. It is not given – it is won. And the state often reacts with violence. And others often watch in silence.
At the last moment I took the car into Sant Pere Pescador.
Following the sound of music and voices I found people voting at an old people’s home. There were crowds in the street and at the nearby bar. It was a bit more edgy and tense there but feeling very thirsty I went and ordered a beer and sat beside an older woman who was staring into the distance. Another woman joined us and yet again Zero was the link that allowed us to start talking. By now we knew about the injuries in Barcelona and Lleida. By now we all understood what could happen here – could happen anywhere.
But they told me that they had a leader of the Mossos looking after them and that they didn’t expect trouble from the Guardia Civil – the Spanish police.
I hope they didn’t have any trouble. It is now just after 8pm and there has been a lot of trouble all over Catalunya – all from the military police who were directed by the Spanish government to stop the referendum – whatever it takes. The news is full of blood and baton charges. The Catalan people reacted with courage and songs.
People voting, laughing, eating and drinking with their families and friends. People of all ages. Children and young people. People singing and standing together to protect ballot boxes with only their vulnerable bodies for strength.
I am sad and angry. I am ashamed of the UK government for their refusal to speak out. I am ashamed of the UK Labour party for keeping silent. I am disgusted by the EU for standing by and doing nothing.
But in the end there is one thing for sure – they said they would vote in a referendum on October 1st and in spite of all the threats and violence – that is what Catalans did today.
We have arrived in Catalunya in time for the referendum on October 1st.
#1Oct is a handy reference for people who use Twitter and who want to see what is happening. There is a lot written in English in case you can’t read Catalan! Why in English? Because it is very important that people outside Catalunya know what is happening and offer support.
Why support the Catalan people?
Because whether you think there should be independence or not, we all need to know that in Europe the democratic right to vote is protected. People should have the right to express their opinions freely without being threatened or bullied or arrested.
This last week has seen a lot of activity here in Catalunya. People who want to vote have been very busy, getting together, creating imaginative ways of protecting their right to walk to a civic building and to make a cross on a piece of paper to state if they want Catalunya to be independent or not.
The response from the Spanish state have been extreme. There is virtually a state of emergency although that has not been officially declared. Web sites have been closed down, printed material has been seized. The country has been flooded with police. 700 mayors threatened with arrest for supporting the referendum. Officials have been arrested. Catalan government buildings were entered by police and their web sites closed down. Protestors on the streets have been threatened with arrest for the crime of sedition. (Sedition = conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch)
What else have the Spanish government done?
The finances of the Catalan government were taken over by Madrid. Premises searched, boat-loads of police costing 300,000 euros a day are sitting in Barcelona harbour waiting to be deployed. The Spanish government insists that the referendum is illegal and will be stopped.
And what are Catalan people doing?
Getting on with life and saying calmly and peacefully that they will vote.
Taking part in demonstrations which is the part you may have seen in the news.
Also having what Julian Assange has called the ‘biggest slumber party in the world’ as they spend the weekend in schools and colleges, health centres and old peoples homes. They have organised all sorts of activities, singing, dancing, practising human towers, cooking, playing games, making new friends…..all in order to keep places open for the vote tomorrow.
Or should I say ‘today’? I am writing this in the early hours of October 1st and thinking about all the people – ordinary citizens of all ages – who are so determined to vote that they are willing to camp out this weekend, facing who knows what tomorrow. Whether they vote yes or no – whether they want to be independent or not – they are taking part in a massive public show of strength and courage – to defend the democracy they believe in from the extremely authoritarian power of the state of Spain.
Isn’t that worth supporting?
If this can happen here, it really can happen anywhere. It’s easy to think ‘I won’t bother to vote’ until someone tells you that you can’t. It is a right that has been fought for over the ages and must mean a lot if a state like Spain tries so hard to stop it.
So we had better believe it is worth supporting these people as they call for the freedom to vote.
Tomorrow – we will see what happens. Please do keep watching!
And if you are in the Labour party in the UK can you ask Jeremy Corbyn why he is so quiet about the threats to democracy in Catalunya? And the EU – will they speak out?
Photographs of students demonstrating in support of the referendum in Barcelona. Thanks to a friend who sent them to me – will add his name shortly.
It 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.