Roger Español: “If the State offered an apology, I wouldn’t accept it”

An interview with the man who lost an eye when Spanish police baton-charged voters outside Barcelona’s Ramon Llull polling station

Roger Español lost an eye when Spanish police baton-charged voters gathered outside Barcelona’s Ramon Llull polling station on October 1st last year, the day of Catalonia’s independence referendum.

How did October 1 begin for you?

The previous night I had dropped by the Fort Pienc, Ramon Llull and Encants schools [which would be used as polling stations]. In the morning I meant to follow the same itinerary and by 6 am I had arrived at the Fort Pienc school, where I was meant to vote. It was very quiet and I moved on to Ramon Llull. I hung around because there were police officers seizing ballot boxes and I thought I’d be more useful there.

When did the police shoot?

The most violent baton charges came once they’d seized the ballot boxes. They charged to get us out of the way of the police vans: we had sat down in front of them so they wouldn’t be able to drive to another polling station and start over. After the batons, blanks were fired, followed by rubber bullets. It all happened between carrer Consell de Cent and Gran Via. The bullet that hit me was fired right by Gran Via, when I was on my way home. The police’s path was clear.

So you were on your way, then?

I had agreed with my parents that we’d meet up and I’d accompany them to vote. I was wounded by the police line that stood behind the vans, covering their retreat. When I got shot I was standing in a spot where there were reporters covering the event. There was no reason at all for the police to shoot or take any action because their path was totally clear. The pictures show that they were no further than 15 metres from me when they fired. I was wounded because they ignored every police protocol. Local people and reporters got me out of there because, even though I was on the ground, they kept firing at me and at the people who were helping me.

So you lost an eye as a result?

I was given a sedative while travelling in the ambulance and had surgery when we got to the hospital. The wound also affected the nerves inside my mouth: the right side of my gums goes numb. I am a saxophone player and I’ve had to readapt. I’ve missed a full year of music school. I tried to go back at one point, but it was too hard. Now I’m signed up at the Liceu’s Music School.

What’s been the toughest thing this year?

My family and people close to me have been through a lot. For example, the first day when my son came to see me at the hospital, it was a big shock for him. His mum and Escola dels Encants have done a great job to help him come to grips with the situation. My life has changed, too. My personal life and my career have changed, and I’ve also got involved in political activities, working for the Republic. I’ve ended up being the recognisable face of October 1 and I try to carry that with respect and much pride.

What support have you received?

Nobody in the Spanish government has got in touch, neither the PP nor the PSOE; and I don’t think Ciudadanos would. If they came to offer an apology now, it would be too late. I would turn it down and would not appreciate it. In contrast, the Catalan government and the City of Barcelona have been very helpful.

How do you feel about the events in the aftermath of October 1?

There is stuff I can’t understand. Why would they allow Spanish police officers to demonstrate in Barcelona to celebrate the police operation on the day of the referendum? Their march made a mockery of all the victims of October 1. The State used the police like armed enforcers against the people. October 1 brought us together and exposed the fascist government in Madrid and showed the international community what the Spanish State is all about. Our political leaders have begun to ask for dialogue and a mutually-agreed referendum, and I think they are ignoring the mandate of October 1. Disobedience is key.

Are you hopeful about the trial and its outcome?

I am certain that there will be a favourable resolution, but it will take time. A favourable resolution should allow us to hold to account members of the police force and political leaders. Furthermore, I’d like it to be a chance to prove that my face and over one thousand victims are the result of the Spanish police shouting “Let’s get them!” and “Give us a free hand!”. I will also be deposed because I might be charges myself as part of the investigation. It’s a smokescreen to minimise what’s actually truly important: I lost an eye to a rubber bullet, which were banned in Catalonia in 2014. I’ve nothing to hide. I will stand tall when I give my account of what happened.

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