The Spanish region of Catalonia has had a long and troubled history, characterized by a long struggle for independence. Last week, it seemed as though they might finally get the freedom that they’ve been fighting for all of this time. Following the regional election of 2015, pro-independence parties make up 47.8 percent of the seats, giving them an absolute majority and a mandate to initiate a referendum on Catalan independence.
Several attempts were made by the Catalan parliament to agree on terms for a referendum with the Spanish government but they refused to budge. Determined to go ahead with the vote that they had an absolute legal right to, the Catalan government have decided to go ahead with the referendum anyway. The result of that decision has been a week of horrifying images of severe oppression in the region that has raised the question, is democracy in Spain under threat?
In most democratic countries around the world, it is the job of the police force to do everything that they can to protect every citizen’s right to vote. But the scene in Catalonia was drastically different. There have been shocking videos distributed online of police violently removing people from the polling stations as they attempted to vote for their independence. Ballot boxes were removed and the police took measures to disrupt the referendum and disrupt it entirely. Officials of the Catalan government have been arrested and all political rallies have been outlawed completely. Media outlets have been banned from advertising anything to do with the referendum and pro-referendum websites have been closed down. There hasn’t been an attack on free speech like this in Spain in recent history. Organizations like the National Endowment for Democracy have raised concerns that this scathing attack on democracy sets a dangerous precedent in Spain and calls into question the future of their citizens. The right to vote and the right to free expression are two of the central pillars of democracy and once you tear them down, the whole ideology is in danger of crumbling. At the moment, the Spanish government is acting more like a dictatorship than a democratic government.
Since the vote, the Spanish government has seized control of the finances of the Catalan government, essentially crippling them. Catalonia brings in a huge amount of the country’s income and so they’ve lost their biggest bargaining chip. The government is currently threatening to curb social services to increase their stranglehold in the region.
Regardless of that oppression, the people of Catalonia remain strong, although a huge amount of the people that voted in the referendum have chosen to leave the country for fear that the situation will only get worse. The Catalan government was expected to officially declare their independence in a session of parliament scheduled for Monday, but the Spanish government have suspended the Catalan parliament and refused to acknowledge the result of the referendum.
It’s difficult to tell how the situation will play out but this attack on democracy should be a worry for the entire world.