Catalonia held a referendum on independence last Sunday despite Madrid’s warning that such a vote had been ruled unconstitutional and illegal.
King Felipe VI called the referendum “totally outside law and democracy.” Such comments from the king, who serves mainly as a figurehead in the Spanish government, are rare.
“Today Catalan society is fractured and in conflict. They have infringed the system of legally approved rules with their decisions, showing an unacceptable disloyalty towards the power of the state.” The king's comments reflect those of the central government, which claims the Catalonian separatists have gone too far.
Riot police were dispatched to put a stop to the vote after Madrid ruled the referendum illegal. Cops reportedly used rubber bullets and batons to force people away from polling stations. More than 840 civilians and 33 police agents received medical attention.
Despite the government's efforts, more than 2 million people voted in favor of independence.
On Tuesday, more than 40 trade unions led a massive strike that shut down businesses, schools, and highways in protest against police violence during the referendum.
University student Paula Miranda said, “I felt lots of impotence and rage. I was not expecting this.”
In spite of the protests against police brutality, the Spanish government continues to defend its actions – all the while reminding the country that it ruled the referendum illegal.
“I want to express my total support for the security forces, who are defending legality and the rights of everyone in Catalonia,” said Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
A whopping 90% of voters chose independence, but voter turnout was only 42%. It appears that people against secession did not vote.
Gregorio Peña, a retired banker who opposed the referendum, said he thought Catalans were being “brainwashed” by the secessionists.
“What we are seeing now is the part of Catalonia that controls the government, with a minority government, which in a best-case scenario never got more than 46% of the vote, trying to change the rules and impose on the other part of Catalonia and on the whole of the country a revolution,” explains Catalan lawyer Ignasi Guardans.
Catalan filmmaker Isabel Coixet argues that a “climate of tension” has effectively silenced any pro-independence authorities. “The biggest problem I see is the double fracture that has been created – the division with Spain and the division between the Catalans.”
The “independence narrative” sells well abroad, she adds, but does not reflect the silent majority.
Catalonia is Spain’s richest region, and accounts for 19% of the country’s GDP. It has its own language and its own culture.
“The referendum and its aftermath have plunged Spain into its worst constitutional crisis in decades, and are a political test for Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, a conservative who has taken a hard-line stance on the issue,” reports Reuters.
Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont considers the vote valid and insists that independence will be declared in a matter of days.