With a visionary, hopeful politics hardly even on the horizon here in the US, it has been inspiring to see the people of Catalonia calling upon the great traditions of freedom and radical community established in and around Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War to fight for their independence in today’s conservative Spain. Since their rebellion and Declaration of Independence has hardly been covered in the American press, we here publish this short Report dated Oct. 4th from Prof. Dana Walker of Northern Colorado University, who is in Barcelona to teach and promote the liberatory uses of radio and other forms of indigenous mass communication within the youth culture of Catalonia.–Peter Gabel
Barcelona, Catalonia – Oct. 4, 2017
Leading up to October 1st, the day of the vote or “referendum” on independence, there was a tremendous sense of excitement and hopefulness, especially among the students. I asked people if they were worried about what the response from the Spanish security force would be, and not a single person expressed any fear of a violent crackdown. Students I spoke with talked of a new future, free of the monarchy and the conservative Spanish society. I told friends that I was worried, having lived through a civil war in Central America, and aware that the repressive Franco regime died only in 1975, not long enough ago. Catalonia was a primary target of the Franco fascists, who came first for the teachers and the language they used for teaching the children (the movie Tongue of the Butterfly by José Luis Cuerda, should be seen – again).
Every night at 10pm the people in the neighborhood have been banging their pots and pans on their balconies – a sign of protest and of warning. The helicopters are still circling overhead.
The day of the vote – for or against independence – was a black day in Spanish and Catalan history. The images of brutal violence against unarmed and non-aggressive people only trying to vote will remain imprinted in our memory. Hundreds of guardía civil were unloaded from ships and trucks from all of over Spain. Their directive seems to have been to impede the vote by any means necessary. High school students spent the night at schools practicing civil disobedience, and secreting in the ballot boxes, which the Spanish police later confiscated when voting was completed in many of the schools.
I observed voting in one school. It was peaceful, and people applauded each voter as they exited the school. The line was around the block. I spoke with a retired man, a “technician” who broke down in tears several times talking about Catalonia and this historic moment. He had been there since 6am to vote and observe the process.
There were Catalan police men who were in tears for having to carry out their orders imposed by the Spanish government: most refused. The Catalan police and firemen and women created human shields to protect the Catalan voters from the Spanish security forces.
What struck me most, beyond the incredible brutality unleashed by the Spanish police against the Catalan voters, was the way in which the Catalan people intervened to prevent further violence. The people appealed to the humanity of the guardia civil, who looked like Darth Vader monsters in their black helmuts, suits, clubs, and rifles. Over and over we saw people stepping forward to protect the victims with outstretched arms, speaking to the police, expressing disbelief at what these men were doing, appealing to them as human beings.
On Oct. 4 there was a general strike in Barcelona and other cities throughout Catalonia. Three out of four shops in this city closed down. Tourists wandered around wondering where the Barcelona they had imagined was. The Catalan people came out in massive protest against the violence wrought by the Spanish security forces and to demonstrate their commitment to the democratic process, the right to vote. They people came out in the streets by the hundreds of thousands, in all corners of the city and beyond, waving their independence banners, singing the dramatically melancholic Catalan national anthem (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ckbiICFbF6k), and chanting, “The streets will always be ours,” and “Out with the occupying forces.” Students and the elderly, workers and administrators marching together. Perfectly peaceful, human, and hopeful. But the Spanish repression has radicalized the population – we’ll see what happens this weekend when a declaration about independence will be made.
This is a historic moment. A new social movement for democracy, which goes beyond Catalan independence, has been given birth here. The movement includes young and old, working and upper classes, students and street cleaners, intellectuals and anarchists. What binds them together is a desire for democracy and non-violence: non-violence has become the sine qua non of the Catalan uprising, across the many factions that make up the Catalan democratic movement. We will see what happens going forward, whether the two sides can create a space for dialogue and negotiation. There are calls for another round of elections, perhaps to ratify the Unilateral Declaration of Independence which is expected to be issued by next week. The guardia civil is still here. The people of Catalonia will continue their struggle. The future is uncertain.