The content of this post is the opinion of the student author and can in no way be taken to represent the views of the Center for European Studies or the European Union.
As Catalonian citizens went to the polls on Sunday, they were met by innumerable Spanish national police in riot gear with clubs and guns loaded with stress ball sized rubber bullets. Voters were forcefully removed from polling places; people were carried out, women had their hair pulled and were dragged across the pavement, both men and women were beaten by police even after being taken down to the floor, the elderly beaten and thrown. Everything was caught on video from people in the crowd or by news stations. The boxes that held casted ballots were confiscated and polling places destroyed. The world was watching and Spain knew it, but their disregard for their own citizens was something that harkens back to a time some Catalonians still remember. The memories of the fascist regime under Francisco Franco is not too far removed- it only collapsed after his death in 1975.
A week before the October 1st, 2017 election was going to take place, the Spanish government sent national police to imprison Catalonian political leaders throughout the region and seize 10 million documents from their offices that included voter lists. The Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont, vehemently condemned the actions of Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. The vote for independence was not a new concept for either the Spanish or the Catalonian government- this was the second of such attempts by Catalonia to leave Spanish rule and run the region under sole Catalonian control in the last three years. Those Catalonian citizens who want to leave cite an abusive history with Spain, cultural identity, and an economic parasitic relationship with the central government to be enough for the referendum to occur. The Spanish government, on both the 2014 and the 2017 elections, called the situation unconstitutional; Catalonia had no right setting up the elections and the results would be null. Spain continued pressuring Catalonia even after the United Nations proclaimed they had to respect the rights of their citizens to assemble and had the freedom of expression despite the federal ruling.
Following the events on Sunday, the UN has declared it will look into state sponsored violence after it was reported more than 850 people were injured. According to the European Union, a state cannot be part of the EU if it begins to use military force on its own population, but no official statement has been made. What happened throughout Catalonia by the hand of the federal government is atrocious and malfeasant in every conceivable way. The lack of concern from a government who begins to physically violate the basic human rights of its own citizenry, while it knows the whole world is watching, is the dangerous foreboding of the departure from democracy.
– Xilen Vega, UNC Global Studies MA Class of ’18 & Co-President of the UNC Chapter of European Horizons