Wednesday, 6 Sept, the Catalan Parliament approved a bill calling for a referendum on independence to be held 1 October. This has been in the making for a few years, and many Catalans never thought it would happen – some still don’t. Because during all those years, despite the millions of Catalans demonstrating each 11 September that they want to vote, the Spanish government has refused to talk to Catalan leaders on the subject. They say it goes against the constitution (something many people contest) and that a referendum is illegal. That voting should be illegal reminds me of the places where the law once said that women were not allowed to vote. Those laws were changed.
The Catalan parliament was elected two years ago with the majority pro-independence coalition winning on the platform of organizing a referendum on independence. And ever since that election, with that majority, the parliament has been moving forward, always asking that Spain negotiate with them so that it could be an agreed upon referendum such as Quebec held a few years ago, and that Scotland also held recently (in both cases, the independence option lost). It has never been a case of negotiations where no agreement could be reached. Spain has always simply refused to talk at all.
In response to the referendum bill being approved on Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría condemned the Catalan leadership for carrying out what she called "an act of force" and for acting more like "dictatorial regimes than a democracy".
Not being a journalist and this being my blog, I am free to comment. A duly elected parliament that is carrying out its electoral platform, presenting a bill for debate and vote, is hardly performing “an act of force.” It is carrying out a democratic act. This is what parliaments that serve their public do. As for acting more like a dictatorial regime than a democracy, that could only be said by someone who hasn’t the slightest idea of how democracy functions. What is dictatorial is for government to take no heed of people who want their voices to be heard.
If in fact holding a referendum goes against the Spanish constitution, maybe the constitution should be amended. The American constitution, for example, has been amended 27 times. The Spanish government, having little experience with democracy, doesn’t see that as an option.
The same day that the Catalan Parliament approved the law calling for the referendum on independence to be held 1 October, the Spanish Guardia Civil installed itself at the entrance to the premises of a small printing company near Tarragona. They had no court order so they couldn't enter and search. But it seems they didn't need a court order to stay there and stop and search every car and van and truck that came and went: employees, suppliers, delivery companies, everyone had to stop and have their vehicle searched. They did this for 48 hours.
Today a court order was issued and seven agents of the Guardia Civil entered the printing company building. They were supposedly looking for up to 7,000 papers that pertain to the referendum. Everyone assumes they were looking for the paper ballots. It turned out finally, after they searched for three hours, that they didn’t find anything and left with their cardboard box empty.
Last night, before this comedy act played out, Josep Maria Piqué, who has a small printing company, was inspired. He figured that the Guardia Civil was about to confiscate all the ballots for 1 October. But there are samples of them on the internet, therefore, he decided that if they were going to confiscate ballots that had been printed at the other company, he would just go and print some more. So he printed 45,000 ballots, enough for his own and the few surrounding rural counties.
Although I believe it is supposed to, Spain does not seem to have separation of powers between the government and the judiciary. The judiciary clearly takes its instruction from the government and acts accordingly. Thus, the Spanish government and the attorney general have been busy little bees, filing complaints with the Supreme and Constitutional Courts for every act the Catalan government has taken. Most recently, this includes the referendum bill, the regulations pertaining to it, the transitory law that, if the Yes vote wins, would provide an interim constitution until a real constitution could be formulated and voted on by the public. The original referendum bill was already declared illegal when the parliament attempted to debate it several months ago. And charges have been brought against several people in the government accused of disobeying the Constitutional Court in doing whatever they have done to make the referendum a reality. There are almost as many complaints connected to the referendum filed by the government with the courts as there are criminal corruption cases before the courts (with hundreds of people from that same government implicated).
Because the referendum vote has been declared illegal, the Spanish government, district attorneys, and courts are going after anyone and everyone who is in any way enabling the event. People are being threatened with criminal charges and the possible loss of their personal property (including their homes). Today over 1040 warrants have been issued to a variety of Catalans: public officials and private individuals, including everyone in the Catalan government who has supported holding the referendum.
In the midst of this legal flurry, and at some personal risk, as of yesterday (Thursday) evening, 560 mayors had signed a confirmation that their town will participate in the referendum and provide polling places.
The person who perhaps runs the greatest risk is Carme Forcadell, the President of the Catalan Parliament. The Spanish government has already made public statements that they will go after her with criminal charges for disobeying the law in allowing the bill to come before the parliament to be voted on. They call that violence and a coup d’etat. Forcadell is already facing charges by the Spanish judicial system for having done the same thing with a similar bill several months ago. At that time, that bill was blocked by the court and shelved. The one this week was left to the last minute and processed on a fast track – not the usual procedure, but the only way to get around the Spanish government blocking it before it could be voted.
Forcadell is not a professional politician. She's an educator who was the president of the Assemblea Nacional Catalana (ANC), a grassroots independence organization (the organization that organized "We want to vote" demonstrations attended by 2 million people each year for the last five years) and was elected to Parliament at the last elections on a coalition ticket of mixed political groups plus independents such as herself. She is one of the great heroes of the moment. Carles Puigdemont is another. President of the Generalitat, he is by profession a journalist. Oriol Junqueras, Vice President of the Generalitat, is a history professor.
Although Spain is ripe with corruption, the Catalans are lucky to have people like Carme Forcadell, Carles Puigdemont, Oriol Junqueras, dozens of members of the Catalan parliament, hundreds of mayors, and countless other people in the Catalan and local governments. These are people who are committed enough to the public will to organize a plan, at personal risk, that hopefully will evade all the maneuvering of the Spanish government, Spanish puppet courts, and Spanish police, and set up polls where any citizen who wants to can check Yes or No and drop their ballot into a ballot box. And they are doing it with no sure knowledge of whether the Yes or the No will win.