By Shane Daly
“An angel robed in spotless white,
Bent down and kissed the sleeping Night.
Night awoke to blush; the sprite was gone.
Men saw the blush and called it Dawn.”– Paul Laurence Dunbar
Catalonia awoke this morning, bloodied but unbowed. Several thousand demonstrators gathered outside the Barcelona headquarters of Spain’s national police force on Tuesday 03/10/2017 amid strikes in protest at police violence during the disputed referendum on Catalonian independence. As Madrid comes under growing international pressure to resolve its worst political crisis in decades, the crowd gathered in the Catalan capital, chanting “independence”, calling Spanish police an “occupying force” and urging them to leave the region.
In Barcelona, police said about 15,000 people had stopped traffic as they rallied, many draped in the blue, yellow and red Estelada flag used by Catalan separatists, shouting: “The streets will always be ours.” Schools and universities were shut on Tuesday the 03/10/2017 and most small businesses were closed after unions called for the stoppage to “vigorously condemn” the police response to the poll, in which Catalonia’s leader said 90% of voters had backed independence from Spain.
Several of the more than five million people who were eligible to vote said they were prevented from casting their ballots. The central government has vowed to stop the wealthy North-Eastern region, which accounts for a fifth of Spain’s GDP, breaking away from Spain and has dismissed Sunday’s poll as unconstitutional and a “farce”.
The official government stance on the referendum is that it is unconstitutional and illegal. The protests on Tuesday are solely because of police actions on the day of the unofficial referendum. Up to 900 people were injured in clashes during the referendum, Catalan authorities have said.
The region’s department of health said four people remained in hospital, including two in a serious condition. Most of those injured more than 380 were being treated in Barcelona, followed by Girona, Lleida, Terres de l’Ebre and other regions of Catalonia.
The Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, speaking on Sunday night, said the government had done what it had had to do and thanked the police for acting with “firmness and serenity”.
He went onto say;
“Today there has not been a self-determination referendum in Catalonia. The rule of law remains in force with all its strength. We are the government of Spain and I am the head of the government of Spain and I accepted my responsibility.
“We have done what was required of us. We have acted, as I have said from the beginning, according to the law and only according to the law. And we have shown that our democratic state has the resources to defend itself from an attack as serious as the one that was perpetrated with this illegal referendum. Today, democracy has prevailed because we have obeyed the constitution.”
Unfortunately for Mr. Rajoy the countless pieces of video and photographic evidence of his police force using unnecessary brutality on peaceful protesters would suggest otherwise. Spain allows Catalonia which has its own language and culture a range of powers in a bid to quell its wish for independence from Madrid. But in the wake of the violence, the Catalan regional president last night declared Catalonia had “won the right to become an independent state”.
Speaking in Barcelona after polls closed, Carles Puigdemont said: “Today the Spanish state wrote another shameful page in its history with Catalonia.” He added: “With this day of hope and suffering, the citizens of Catalonia have won the right to an independent state in the form a republic.”
He vowed to call on the EU to look into alleged human rights violations that he said took place during the chaos. Spanish cops fired rubber bullets and beat hundreds of protesters with batons as they tried to disperse massive crowds. Police forcibly dragged people out of polling stations by their hair as they tried to cast their ballots leading to as many as 900 people suffering injuries.
The Spanish Government would do well to tread carefully as it was the British Governments actions in the aftermath of the 1916 Rising that led to the change in public scorn directed at the rebels to that of sympathy. Immediately after the fighting, which claimed the lives of 64 rebels, 200 civilians and 132 police officers or British soldiers, those who directed the insurrection were dismissed as revolutionary extremists. They were jeered at and pelted with rotten fruit in Dublin.
It was the decision by the British commander, General Maxwell, to execute the captured leaders, James Connolly in particular as he was tied to a chair in order to keep him still so the firing squad could hit their mark, which transformed military defeat into political success. In the 1918 election, Sinn Féin won a landslide victory across Ireland and launched the campaign that eventually led to independence. The Spanish Government might have already gone too far in not condemning their National police forces actions. Perhaps Brendan Kennelly in his poem “Revolution” said it best;
“Most of those who believe in me
want something fair and true.
I can happen anytime.
I need only a few
who know, being one,
How to do
What must be done.
Is there a tiny seed of me in you?”