Attempts by the Spanish government to outlaw Catalonia’s October 1 referendum on independence, including state violence, were militantly defied by the Catalans so they could exercise their right to decide the future of Catalonia. The anti-democratic suppression of Catalans by the Spanish government has been widely denounced, with rallies in support of Catalans’ right to decide taking place across Spain and Europe.
Despite riot police shooting voters with rubber bullets and beating them with shields and batons, people refused to be intimidated. News agencies report that ballot boxes had been hidden in the days before and then smuggled past the Spanish national police into polling stations. Local Catalan police were seen calmly confronting members of the national police, asking them to stand down and cease their attacks on the people and polling stations.
Polls were open from 7:00 am to 8:00 pm. The Spanish government claimed it had closed a majority of polling stations, but news agencies report that many were occupied by teachers, parents, students and activists determined to let people in. Some schools designated as polling stations organized weekend-long recreational activities to prevent the national police from occupying the buildings. Around midday, the Catalan government announced that despite police attacks, 73 per cent of polls were open, an indication that the Spanish government’s attempt to criminalize the referendum had failed.
Mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau on October 1 called for the resignation of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and criticized the violence of the Spanish national police. “If this is a democracy, the police action should be stopped immediately so we can later have a dialogue, which is what is needed,” Colau said. Colau later reported that more than 460 people were injured, a figure that was later increased by the Catalan Health Department to 761, with 335 injured in Barcelona alone. “As mayor of Barcelona I demand an immediate end to police attacks against the defenceless population,” said Colau in a statement.
The Spanish government defended the police violence with utmost arrogance, with Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría claiming that authorities acted with “firmness and proportionality.” Prime Minister Rajoy in a televised press conference following the close of polls denied that any referendum had taken place.
The state violence brought to mind for many the suppression of the Catalan culture and language under the Franco regime, with those who lived through those years taking part in the referendum not only to affirm their democratic rights but to repudiate the dictatorship.