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Voices: the Catalan Referendum

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Interviews conducted and edited by Indigo Lilburn-Quick (BA History and Politics)

With Spain in turmoil after the Catalan referendum we asked 4 people invested in the situation their opinion. For information on what’s happening in Catalonia please see the article.

The author would like to thank all those interviewed and note that each interview has been edited for clarity.

Insiders – first we talk to students from Catalonia and their reactions to the vote.

Ciro Puig Bonet, 1st Year BA Philosophy and Politics, from Barcelona

What is your stance on the Catalonia referendum?

I am not pro-independence but believe there needs to be a democratic vote to let the Catalan people decide.

What are your reasons for this?

I guess the first point to make is against the conservative Spanish central government of Mariano Rajoy and against the abuse of their monopoly of violence both against the political institutions in Catalonia (going from fines and detentions of various public workers and congressmen and congresswomen to the imprisonment of the two pro-independence organizations Omnium and ANC) and especially violence against the Catalan population which left over 900 injured people after the 1st of October. And by that I do not only mean to condemn the incidents as stating that they should have never happened, but also in the sense that the central government must take responsibility in healing the victims and asking for forgiveness. Justice must be executed against the institutional and military aggression and all organisations involved must now be judged accordingly and face the respective consequences. Violence is the end of good politics and as the Spanish and supposedly post-fascist society that we are we must put an effort in recovering the politics of peace that a healthy democracy requires.

That said and giving the main responsibility of stopping the vote and the violence of the situation, I also condemn most of the actions carried out by the Catalan government and pro-independence organisations. It is fundamental here to be critical with both sides of the problem and opposing one of them does not have to mean supporting the other directly. The Catalan government on their side have been acting in a very anti-democratic way as well –but obviously on a different level. They excluded the political parties against the referendum (which represent a large proportion of the Catalan population) from the parliament when the law to establish the referendum was voted on and they called the Catalan population to participate in an act of civil disobedience which sadly was going to be met with violence and could be predicted to be so, thus putting the security of our population at risk. They have been acting in a very sad way within which the hopes and political motivations of the civil society empowering have been raised and promised but have had no guarantees and whose result was for sure going to disappoint. Something that personally has annoyed me a lot from the pro-independence side during this process is their victimisation by comparing themselves to other political issues which are by far of more weight and which are disrespected when compared to the case of Catalan independence (for example the tortures happening under Franco’s rule or the Israeli occupation of Palestine).

Any Last Thoughts?

I think that we must be critical with every institutional action that has happened and that is still to happen during this process, especially regarding the growth of any nationalism that uses a flag to cover the various crisis regarding social justice and democracy happening in the nation it tends to defend. We do want democracy and we still do want a referendum, but we must work harder to make sure everyone is included in this process of decision which has to be more dialogic, legitimate, plural, with guarantees and overall peaceful.

Andreu Torner 1st Year BA International Relations from Barcelona

What is your stance on the Catalonia referendum?

On Sunday 1st October I went to Barcelona to vote “Yes” in the referendum, I voted for the Independence of Catalonia because in my opinion is essential for Catalans, as for any other population, to be able to express their voice in a democratic way, in this case through a referendum.

What are your reasons for this?

During the past 10 years I attended in numerous demonstrations for the independence of Catalonia. Catalans have tried numerous times, and always in democratic ways, to solve the problems of the region before claiming that the want to completely separate from Spain. In 2006 Catalonia agreed with Spain for a new status of autonomy that recognised Catalonia as a nation and provided more political and economic self-government. It was approved by referendum of the Catalan population. Nonetheless, this agreement between Catalan and Spanish parliaments was broken by a decision of the Spanish constitutional court in a breach to the separation of powers, as the constitutional court was used by parties and was politically biased. These actions were disapproved by a great majority of Catalans and the Catalan government continued to request more political and economic autonomy. Moreover, several social reforms approved by the Catalan parliament have been rejected afterwards by the constitutional courts, and this were related to issues like access to energy for the poor and gender equality. The argument has always been that Catalans cannot have social rights that are not available in other parts of Spain.

The Independence movement, though being very powerful in the Catalan nation, has never found an openness to dialogue on the Spanish side. The Spanish government never accepted a dialogue towards a referendum similar to the Scottish one.

Adding to this, the Spanish policies make the reality of Catalonia invisible at the European and International levels.  Since I was born I have had a national frustration caused by a State that unfairly represents Catalans, denying we are a nation, and does not allow a multi-national vision of Spain with its different identities. On the contrary, it obliges the entire country to adopt a Spaniard identity. Thus, not letting Catalans, Galicians and Basques to develop and flourish in their own way. The centralised state unfairly treats other languages, cultural values and traditions in an un-egalitarian way, always imposing Spanish culture as superior –with the use of law and force when it’s necessary.

I think that on the 21st century issues of self-determination in a representative democracy have to be dealt with through political arguments and democratic decision-taking, as in the cases of Quebec and Canada, or Scotland and the United Kingdom.  In my opinion the use of force against voters during the referendum, with the violent attitude of the Spanish police, is to be blamed. There were approximately 1000 peaceful citizens injured only because they wanted to vote. Moreover, there are two political prisoners in Spain today, Jordi Sanchez (a very good friend of my parents) is now in prison because he was the president of the Catalan National Assembly, a social movement for independence. He is imprisoned together with another civil society leader, Jordi Cuixart. They are political prisoners of Spain, because these two citizens just organized peaceful demonstrations. I have participated every year in the demonstrations they organized, and I can witness that all kind of citizens joyfully participated in them, crowds of families expressing their wishes for independence. After the attorney general asked for the Catalan government to be brought to trial under the accusation of “Rebellion”, the Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and six of his ministers went to Brussels asking to obtain a just trial that will not be possible in Spain, due to the political use in courts.

Outsiders– the next two interviewees are not Catalonian but both are invested in the situation, one Spaniard and one Brit living in Catalonia.

Fernando Rubio, 2nd year Politics and International Relations from Seville

What is your stance on the Catalonia referendum?

My position on the Catalan referendum is quite straight forward; there was no referendum.

What are your reasons for this?

There was a vote which a corrupt, populist, opportunistic and immoral party sold as a referendum. There are clear prescriptions within the constitution which determine what a referendum is, this vote followed none of these. Article 92 of a democratically passed constitution in 1978, a document ratified since by every single democratically elected government, and thus by 3 generations of popular mandate, states:

  1. Political decisions of special importance may be submitted to all citizens in a consultative referendum.
  2. The referendum shall be called by the King at the proposal of the President of the Government, following authorisation by the Congress of Deputies.
  3. An organic law shall regulate the terms and procedures for the different kinds of referendum provided for in this Constitution.

Thus there was no referendum. Therefore illegality cannot determine the future of a nation, and especially it will not subjugate a silent majority of democrats who wish to remain as part of a state proudly and legitimately composed of multiple national identities.

Any Last Thoughts?

I would like to add how disappointed I am with our society’s devotion of political sensationalism. It took the brutal actions of riot police and a couple of violent protesters for the world to finally decide to give a damn about Spain. Just like with Greece (which now nobody talks about) the media is drawn to blood and suffering like thirsty sharks, and people today follow these sharks anywhere for the sake of entertainment. The Catalan dispute is more than 2 centuries old, it is not new. People have now suddenly become so invested in a cause they ignored, actively or passively, just a month ago. They have jumped to conclusions with little contextual knowledge, both historical and cultural. Spanish people (Catalans, Castillians, Andalusians, Basques, Galicians, Murcians, Aragonesians, Navarrans, Extremadurians, Canarians and Balearians) have learnt to sort its disputes together, because they know the rest of the world does not give two shits about them. Let’s not fool ourselves and believe otherwise.

Zeph Barden, English Teacher Living in Catalonia, from Bradford lives in Vic

I think when we talk about the referendum in Catalunya it must be looked upon with respect to the deep and intertwined history of both states, and acknowledge the weight this multifaceted problem carries for both the Spanish and Catalan communities.

What is your stance on the Catalan referendum?

I am pro-independence, and strongly think there is a need for dialogue between the Spanish and Catalan governments.

What are your reasons for this?

From my prospective, the violence, although shocking and abhorrent, unfortunately follows an all too familiar suit of the Spanish regime shutting down discourse wherever possible. This coming from my perspective as an immigrant who lived in hugely pro-independence area for an extended period. Not so much that the violence on the streets is commonplace, but more the idea, the intent of the Spanish state to refuse any meaningful discourse with Catalan leadership and the Catalan people. Not unlike a child hiding behind their own hands, if we don’t see you you’re not there.


To turn peaceful demonstrations into scenes of brutality, acts committed against young and old indiscriminately is sincerely harrowing to behold. I firmly believe that as European citizens, we have an obligation to vehemently defend the right of suffrage. This has not been the first referendum, nor I believe will it be the last. Catalan politicians have pursued diplomatic means to have the Spanish state hold a referendum on terms they find agreeable, Mariano Rajoy has severed the opportunity for dialog at each juncture. Acts of violence will never silence the Catalan spirit only the fuel the fire that burns in so many.

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable”

I believe that the people have a voice, one that will not be repressed or subdued by obscene crackdowns or voter suppression. They must be heard.

What is the one thing you with people understood about the referendum?

I think the most important takeaway from this situation is the wider implications it has to the European state. Knowingly allowing a European member state to infringe on the human rights of its own citizens. The detainment of political leaders without trial? We stare across our borders, giving muted response to what we know to be profoundly wrong, Martin Niemöller’s “First they came” comes to mind.

This to me is about more than Catalunya, as we look down the barrel of an ever more segregated Europe. Our leaders fail to acknowledge an ongoing atrocity that if committed by a non-EU state would be considered terrorism.

But as long as Benidorm doesn’t suffer, I suppose we have nothing to worry about.

Any last thoughts?

A Catalan friend who studied in England talked about how he would watch “LIP DUB PER LA INDEPENDÈNCIA” ( ) while in England. A world record breaking video shot in the city of Vic where we lived. The video showcases the passion and traditions I was made part of as a newcomer to Catalunya. My friend explained how much pride the video filled him with and now as I watch the same video, I feel that same pride but also fear that such a beautiful culture and people should be threatened by a dictatorship historically known to the Catalan people.

Visca Catalunya!

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