The image of a protest in Catalonia, of people holding ballot boxes, is a very powerful one in the era of Instagram because it is understood around the world: in Catalonia there are millions of people who want to vote. They are people armed with ballot boxes which, given the current state of the world, is a message that we would like to see wherever there is conflict. And in front of them there is a state that opposes them.
The presence of football coach Pep Guardiola was a good move by the organisers because, when Guardiola speaks, it makes headlines. All over the world. And precisely because of that, because when Guardiola speaks it resonates around the world, he was already under fire from all sides even before stepping off the stage at Sunday’s pro-independence rally. Especially for having referred to Spain as an “authoritarian state”.
It’s not that the Spanish state is authoritarian simply for rejecting a referendum that they could agree terms for, as happened in Scotland or Quebec. It’s that previously, when negotiating much more modest proposals, it has held authoritarian positions: with the 2006 referendum on the Catalan Statute, with the Constitutional Court’s 2010 verdict on that same Statute (which was the last straw), with the “patriotic police” that fabricated evidence, with the public prosecutor who “will sort it out for you”, with the bans from public office on the former president and three members of his government for organising a non-binding referendum in 2014, with the persecution of the Speaker of the House for organising a debate in the Catalan chamber... For all of these reasons, the Spanish state is authoritarian. It behaves in an authoritarian manner in Catalonia, whom it treats like a rebellious anomaly for anything it might request or approve, ignoring everything the region brings to the country and its importance within Europe.
For someone to get all worked up about Guardiola referring to the Spanish state as “authoritarian”, when the Spanish defence minister has compared holding a referendum to a coup d’état… That about says it all.
The tone and the message are a different matter. When the Catalan government says that the referendum will take place and Spain responds that it won’t, when the Catalan government has drafted a law but won’t release it so it can’t be blocked and Spain says it has everything ready to block it, we’re heading straight for conflict. And that worries a lot of people, it makes them shift uneasily. It’s here that preaching to the choir stops being useful. From our point of view, two ideas must be insisted on. One: wanting to vote can’t be a crime and if it ends up being so, it will be because the state’s obstruction prevents voting in an agreed way. Two: Madrid’s obstruction of everything proposed by the political majority in Catalonia is so overwhelming that it would be useful to discuss the reasons why becoming an independent country would be better than remaining as a Spanish region. (For instance, is Spain thinking to do anything so that people don’t have to sleep in the street to renew their Spanish identity card or their passport?).
Madrid’s scaremongering tactics cannot be allowed to prevail. Because, when fear wins, the failure is shared by everyone, including the winners. Because they have a victory, but they also still have the problem. I’m not one of those that likes to split things into categories. There are many things in life and politics that are relative. But if I’m sure of anything, it’s that, one way or another, either with a referendum or banning it, the Spanish state will sit down to negotiate with Catalonia because this can’t go on. Because it’s an embarrassment that the problem faced by Catalonia, one of the most dynamic regions in Europe, should persist indefinitely.