A Mix of Hope, Fear and Anger in Catalonia After Millions Vote for Independence From Spain

Amid protests over violence by Spanish police, the next steps after Catalonia's referendum are uncertain but may include a general strike.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 02:  Students hold a silent protest against the violence that marred yesterday's referendum vote outside the University on October 2, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain. Catalonia's government met Monday to discuss plans to declare independence after the results of yesterday's disputed referendum.  (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Students hold a silent protest against the violence that marred yesterday's referendum vote outside the University on Oct. 2, 2017 in Barcelona. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Catalonia remained on edge Monday, a day after millions voted for independence from Spain in a referendum that the central government used force to disrupt, severely limiting turnout but also raising questions about the legitimacy of a democracy that orders the police to beat voters.

As the European Union spurned an appeal from the president of the Catalan autonomous region, Carles Puigdemont, to facilitate talks with Spain about what comes next, tens of thousands of students marched through the streets of Barcelona with their mouths taped shut, to express their frustration about the Spanish government denying them a voice.

There was particular outrage at the violence inflicted on voters by members of Spanish police forces who were called in to block the referendum after a Spanish court ruled that it was unconstitutional. The images of police officers beating voters and firing rubber bullets at polling places on Sunday stunned and horrified Catalans, and rage at the police only grew on Monday as more video clips were broadcast and circulated on social media.


In Barcelona, hundreds of protesters blocked traffic outside the headquarters of the Spanish national police force in the city, where Catalan nationalists were tortured during the dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco. As protesters screamed abuse at the Spanish police inside the building, the autonomous Catalan police force, the Mossos, was called in to keep the peace.


Outside Barcelona, in the town of Calella, residents demanded that Spanish Guardia Civil officers be withdrawn after video showed that plainclothes officers had attacked protesters outside their hotel.


The officers were evacuated from Calella after a day of angry protests.

Rage at the national police was not dimmed by the revelation that officers billeted at the port of Barcelona posed with the Spanish flag for a triumphal victory photograph after attacking Catalan voters.

How the crisis can be defused without further violence remains a mystery, but the next step for Catalans seeking to put pressure on the government of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is a general strike called for Tuesday.

The planned action appears to have widespread support, even from opponents of independence who feel that Spain denied them their democratic rights by hampering the referendum. Major Spanish trade unions refused to sanction the strike, but it was supported by the city of Barcelona and important Catalan cultural and sporting institutions, including FC Barcelona and the Sagrada Familia cathedral.

The images of police violence enflamed opinion in Catalonia and abroad, yet instilled fear locally and likely had a chilling effect on voter turnout, leaving the legitimacy of the result in doubt.

A Catalan activist who asked to be identified only by his first name, Jordi, because he feared retribution from the Spanish authorities, told The Intercept that he was distraught to hear that turnout for the referendum had been limited to about 42 percent and blamed the images of police beating voters for convincing many supporters of independence to stay home on Sunday. The activist also said that he feared that the Spanish government might be planning to arrest the Catalan president to provoke a crisis on the streets that would justify calling in a far larger security force, perhaps including the military.

The sense of frustration and hopelessness was expressed across Catalonia on Monday night in a form of noisy protest known as a casserolada, in which keys are shaken and casseroles, pots, and pans are banged on loudly.

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