BARCELONA: For or against independence, Catalans are reeling from police violence during an independence referendum banned by Madrid but far from locking horns with the Spanish government, they call for dialogue. At the entrances to their offices, in front of press kiosks, in cafes and in queues at the market, the talk of the town in Barcelona is Sunday’s vote that was marred by police use of force. Madrid was against the referendum and had long told Catalan separatist leaders they could not go ahead with it, but they did anyway. Riot police moved in on polling stations in towns and cities across Catalonia to stop people from voting, in some cases baton-charging and firing rubber bullets to disperse crowds.
Antoni Crespo, 85, chats to a friend at the University of Barcelona, where this retired shoemaker is studying for a masters in philosophy. “I’m really pained, really sad, really anxious, really disillusioned, really concerned about what happened,” Crespo, a supporter of independence said. Footage of police grabbing those who were preventing them from closing polling stations, dragging some by the hair or hitting them with batons have spread through the media and social networks. According to regional authorities, close to 900 people received medical attention. The interior ministry said close to 40 police agents also needed medical aid. “This has hurt this country’s spirit, I don’t want to say it was a humiliation because that’s a very serious word… but we’re hurt, those in favor of the ‘yes’ and those for the ‘no’,” Crespo adds.
He was referring to the question of the referendum: “Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?” “What happened yesterday has no name, it’s a disgrace,” says Sergi Capell, 50, the boss of a design studio and communications agency, at the entrance to Barcelona’s Real Circulo Artistico, an arts institute where he is about to speak at a conference. He was taking photos on the streets on Sunday, and while he says he isn’t for independence, he feels “indignation.”
Some Catalans who weren’t thinking of voting in the referendum changed their mind when they saw how police acted. It’s the case of Julia Mayayo, a 26-year-old nurse, who returned to Barcelona a week ago after three years working in Britain. “I don’t believe in an independent Catalonia outside of the European Union,” she says. “Coming from England, from Brexit, it was like coming back and making the same mistake.” But on Sunday she saw her two sisters, 16 and 18, terrorized over the possibility that police could erupt into the polling stations where they were working as volunteers.
So she ended up going to vote. Her friend Cristina Donate, a 26-year-old teacher, is pro-independence. But she doesn’t think that what happened pits Catalans against other Spaniards, but against Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s executive. “There have been lots of protests in the whole of Spain… many people support us,” she says. But “with these type of acts, (the Spanish government) shows that it doesn’t respect us, and doesn’t intend to,” she adds as a helicopter hovered overhead, monitoring a nearby rally against the police violence.
For Jordi Alberich, an economist, “it’s important to separate rejection of images of police acts… from what is a proposal for independence that impacts many generations.” “I think that more than ever, dialogue is very important.” Capell agrees. “It would be very difficult for Europe to recognize a declaration of independence voted by two million people,” he says, referring to the result of the referendum, in which regional authorities said 90 percent voted “yes” out of a turnout of just over 42 percent.
He adds that it would make things difficult for businessmen like himself. “There must be mediation, the EU could be an option,” he says. Mayayo feels that Catalan President Carles Puigdemont needs to be “more clever than the others.” “Now that Europe is listening to him… he has to play his cards right.” As Crespo puts it-“They have to talk, whether they like it or not,” he says. “Otherwise we will all lose. Them and us.”- AFP