Spanish Police Ordered To Close Polling Stations Ahead Of Referendum In Catalonia

Emilio Morenatti / AP

This Tuesday, the Spanish government declared that police agents are to be deployed to known polling booths across Catalonia in order to prevent people from voting in the controversial independence referendum, the Guardian reports.

This voting, deemed illegal by Madrid, is set to happen next Sunday. Measures were put in place to prevent it from happening, however, including reinforcing the Catalonian police with thousands of agents from other regions of the country.

Last week, several ballots were confiscated, and representatives from the central government have declared that the structure required for the referendum to take place has been dismantled.

Orders were also issued for the police to identify anyone attempting to vote on Sunday. Furthermore, anyone caught operating the pooling booths is liable to be indicted for the crimes of civil disobedience.

Such measures were received with consternation by the Catalonians. Also last week, 12 people were imprisoned after clashes with the authorities.

Nevertheless, the regional government, led by Carles Puigdemont, from the Catalan European Democratic Party, has stated that the voting will take place anyway. Commenting on the measures directed by the Spanish Prime-Minister Mariano Rajoy, Puigdemont declared that he was acting “beyond the limits of a respectable democracy.”

There is the sense that Madrid is repressing Catalonian political will, which may paint a grim picture of the near future for the whole of Spain, especially if one takes the country’s history into account.

Carles Puigdemont walks with mayors under investigation after supporting the independence vote in Catalonia.
The President of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont (second counting from the left), has repeatedly declared that the independence vote will go ahead, in spite of Madrid ruling against it. [Image by Manu Fernandez/AP Images] Manu Fernandez / AP

Catalonia, which has its capital in Barcelona, is one of the richest regions of Spain, inhabited by 7.5 million people and responsible one-fifth of the country’s economy. According to the New York Times, this makes the region comparable to Portugal in economic terms.

The region was put under Spanish rule on September 11, 1714, but never achieved total integration, having its own cultural legacy and language. The spread of the revolutionary ideals and the scattered nature of the fight against the French in the early 18th century gave new life to the regional identity.

Catalonia itself spearheaded the industrial development of Spain during the rest of the century. As the 20th century rolled in, the nationalistic zeal grew fiercer, and the attempts of the region to succeed from Madrid were among the reasons leading to the Civil War that devastated the country between 1936 and 1939.

The ensuing dictatorship ended in 1975 and the country’s constitution was then remodeled to be more democratic and representative.

Although Catalonia had a great degree of autonomy in the new constitution, the desire for actual independence never waned. In 2010, there was an attempt to give the region special autonomy, but it was shot down by the Constitutional Court.

Just four years later, in November 2014, a referendum that was also deemed illegal, presented a favorable vote for independence, with 80 percent of the voters opting for that choice. However, the leader of the region at the time, Artur Mas, was fined and barred from holding an office for two years.

Thus, this Sunday’s referendum, if it ever happens, has a long history behind it, meaning that it holds a true importance to the Catalonian population. Interestingly enough, there are reports of civilians giving carnations to police officers, in a move that evokes the Portuguese revolution of 1974, in which a military coup ended the fascist regime.

The history and the context of the Catalonian struggle for independence can have wider ramifications, however. The ostensibly unpopular Prime-Minister Rajoy is fighting for his political future. But the general feeling is that his actions are actually pushing the Catalonians to the brink instead of reinstating the order.

Furthermore, in the Andalusian city of Huelva, elements of the paramilitary Guardia Civil departing to Catalonia were instigated by the populace with cries of “Go get ’em,” The Herald reports.

Grimly enough, such cues provide a faint echo of the dawn of the Civil War. That conflict was much more than the military against the civilian population. It was also a struggle among the different Spanish regions and ideologies.

[Featured Image by Emilio Morenatti/AP Images]