Spain bears witness to the muffling of the voice of democracy and the crisis since Sunday has overshadowed the referendum on the independence of Catalonia. The government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has muffled the sub-regional jingoism over self-determination, an emotive issue that has become increasingly contentious over time.
The scenes at the police stations were an antithesis of the democratic engagement ~ police in riot gear assaulting peaceful protesters with batons, dragging voters out by the hair or throwing them down the stairs, firing rubber bullets to disperse crowds – even striking at Catalan fire fighters and the regional police. In the net, it was a confrontation between the state authorities and the Catalans shrilling for self-rule.
By trampling the idea under foot as it were, even as the first vote was cast, the authorities have arguably strengthened the cause of the Catalans. By that token, the latter may have scored a moral victory though the outcome of the referendum, such as it was, will not be known for some time yet. Arguably once more, those who have been indifferent to the idea of secession may now lend mild support to the cause after the brutality perpetrated by the authorities in Madrid.
Hence the refrain on Sunday ~ who wants to be ruled by a state like this? The Prime Minister in his remarks, addressing the nation, asserted that there was no referendum per se as the police had acted with “firmness and serenity”. If the state offensive is testament to his perception of “serenity”, it is hard not to wonder whether Spain is paying for his determination to stop what he calls the “illegal vote by the bluntest means and at all costs”.
His stout denial of the referendum can only inflame passions further still. In a sense, Rajoy’s rule has played into the hands of Catalan nationalists. In league with Greece, Portugal and Italy, Spain has been one of the countries in Europe that has in recent years been plagued by the financial crisis. For Spain, the economic crisis has preceded the constitutional.
This is the way in which history has often worked. It has fuelled a surge in the independence movement; the grouse of many in the wealthy region was that they were paying more than their fair share of taxes. And the urge for self-determination was strengthened when the constitutional court turned down the charter increasing the region’s powers and approved by the Spanish parliament. Clearly, the constitutional court had batted for the Prime Minister when the charter was challenged by the ruling People’s Party.
Rajoy’s heavy-handed response has buttressed the cause of Catalans. And it shall not be easy to find a way out of this mess, exacerbated with the crackdown on the referendum. Spain is in crisis.