They were scenes that nobody thought they would see again in a western liberal democracy. Citizens who wanted to do nothing more the express how they would like to be governed were prevent from voting, had their votes seized or faced violence from the state attempting to cast their vote.
The autonomous community of Catalonia has always had a distinct regional identity from the rest of Spain including its own language Catalan. It regained significant autonomy during Spain’s transition to democracy during the late 1970s and early 1980s. But in the 21st century an the Catalan independence movement has been gaining momentum.
This has culminated with the holding of independence referendum by the regional Government of Catalonia on October 1st. But rather than respect the right and self-determination of the Catalan people the Spanish government has deployed extraordinary government force to stop the referendum taking place which its Constitution Court has deemed to be illegal.
Despite this ruling of the court the Government of Catalonia was determined to see the referendum proceed which had been approved by the region’s parliament. Several opposition parties who also oppose independence said they would be boycotting the vote and urged their supporters to do so too. The results of referendum would be binding regardless of the voter turnout.
The Spanish Government rather than just declare any result invalid decided it would forcibly shut down the referendum on polling day which involved deploying riot police, seizing ballot boxes from polling places and preventing people from entering polling places. Because of the shocking displays of police brutality 983 people have been injured but thankfully no fatalities. The display of brute force was clearly designed to send a message to Catalans that it was the Spanish Government who still ruled them.
Despite the intimidation and violence 90% of those whose votes were counted voted in favour of independence. The Spanish Government not surprisingly will not accept the result. This sets in motion the scene for dangerous showdown between the Spanish Government attempting to suppress a group of peoples who do not intend to harm anyone, just control their own destiny.
It is example of how democracy and freedom are only extended so far, there are certain democratic outcomes the modern state will not accept. The defense of the Spanish Governments actions, that their constitution does not allow secession means that there is something wrong with the Spanish Constitution, not the desire of Catalans to be independent.
The right of peoples of a democratic nation to secede should be considered a fundamental natural right. If state, province or region of nation do not feel they are being treated fairly or being properly represented by a centralized government then shouldn’t they have recourse to correct that injustice?
Some people may argue how far do you take the right to secession. Does a property owner have the right to declare their independence and create their own crazy laws governing it? A more reasonable proposition is that only geographic areas that already have some form of governance could have the right to secede.
The concept of secession or dissolution of states is hardly an uncommon occurrence. The Soviet Union and Yugoslavia dissolved and most would agree that was the best of all the people who made up those states. Kosovo recently split from Serbia, as did Montenegro many years earlier. If its good enough for those peoples then surely it is good enough for the people of Catalonia?
The response of the international community has been a disgrace, other European nations and the European Union have called the outbreak of state sanctioned violence an internal matter for Spain. They better hope it doesn’t get to the stage of an international humanitarian crises. One hopes that the will of the Catalan people prevails and they are able to enact peacefully the independence they have just voted for.