It seemed a very long time coming and now, just a week later, it seems that it happened months ago. I suppose that is because of all the pent up emotions. Every day we were reading the newspapers and watching the news for the latest development: What obstacle will they put next? Will the police or army block the entrances to the polling stations? Will people be arrested? With all the obstacles and threats, can there be a decent result? Will it actually happen at all?
Last Sunday, in spite of all that the Spanish government had to throw in their path, 2,236,806 Catalans went to vote on a referendum that if not legal and binding, at least gave them the chance to voice their opinion on paper ballots – a basic democratic right. That opinion was 80% in favor of independence from Spain.
Because the Spanish government would not agree to a legal and binding referendum, the Catalan government made plans for a legal but non-binding consultation. But the Spanish government was determined not to let the Catalans vote under any circumstances, and they filed a complaint with the Spanish Constitutional Court. The Court, upon agreeing to review the complaint, suspended the consultation and any preparations pertaining to it.
Artur Mas, the President of the Catalan government, then announced that the vote would go ahead, but not under the Catalan law under which the original consultation had been planned, but as an informal voter participation that would be run by volunteers so as not to put public employees at risk in disobeying the court suspension and it would use facilities owned by the Catalan government so as not to put city hall officials at risk either.
He put out a call for volunteers, saying that 20,000 would be needed; within two days he had over 40,000. Several hundred city halls added to the available facilities by donating their own facilities for use that day.
This meant that going to vote was an act of civil disobedience. The Spanish government was too circumspect to send in the army (as some wanted), but they had alternative troops: threats, legal intimidation, trying to discredit or eliminate those who are active and important to the movement, and finally, on the day, the attempted sabotage of the computer and phone systems of the Catalan government and the grassroots citizen group that was organizing the event (it is not yet determined who was behind that and will be interesting to find out – but how many people could afford the more than 100,000 euros that the professionally handled sabotage would have cost? I wonder if it was taxpayers’ money…).
Over 2 million people went to vote on 9 November. There was a campaign by the grassroots organizing group that showed a famous person holding the photo of an important person, now deceased, but who would have wanted to go to the polls to vote. The Madrid press made fun of the campaign saying that dead people were going to vote.
My friend Trini said that she was going to vote for her father, who died about a year ago and who would have wanted to vote Yes. My Catalan teacher told me she cried as she left the polling station, thinking of her grandfather who had gone into exile after the Civil War. She was voting for him. Pep Guardiola, the football coach, flew in from Munich to vote. People flew in from much farther away too. They could have found polling stations closer to where they were, there were 14 scattered around the world, but they wanted to come here and be with their friends and family and the rest of their community when they went to the polls. It was a little like Thanksgiving but without the turkey. Because they could not use the usual polling places, there were fewer of them and the lines to vote were longer. But people didn’t mind and there was a good atmosphere.
The two major political parties in Spain had been against any vote. The PP party did everything it could to prevent it; the Socialists told their followers not to vote because it was illegal.
The day after the vote the Spanish government began their cynical campaign of belittling the results – of belittling the Catalan people and what, against all odds, they had just achieved. This was not a referendum, not even a consultation – it was a joke. It was not democratic. It did not have all the required legal guarantees; not many people went to vote; if more had gone the No vote would have been bigger – would have been the majority, etc.
This was not a referendum because the Spanish government would not agree to one and it did not have all the legal guarantees of a government-run vote because the Spanish government made that illegal by sending it to court. If they really wanted to know how many would vote Yes and how many No, all they had to do is allow a legal vote, campaign for No, and encourage people to go and vote -- like Britain did with Scotland.
As exciting and emotional as all this was, the saga is not over yet. Now we are waiting to see if criminal charges will be brought against Catalan President Mas or anyone else involved with the organization of last week's voting.
President Mas will probably be calling for early Catalan parliamentary elections that will be a plebiscite where either banded together in groups or independently, the political parties will run on a single issue – that of independence – yes or no. That will be the real vote, in lieu of a referendum, and I hope it happens sooner rather than later. With all the dancing around and musical chairs going on – which party will team up with which, or will they team up at all? -- the weeks or months leading up to it promise to be yet another emotional challenge.