For Whom The Bell Tolls


Posted by in November's Magazine

Catalonia is in crisis. I don’t know what the situation there will have developed into by the time you read this but at the time I’m writing it there is chaos. The Spanish Government is threatening to end the autonomy of Catalonia and the Catalan Government is staring right back across the void at it.

There was a referendum held on the 1st of October and the actions of the Spanish Government were horrifying. The paramilitary police – the Guardia Civil – were filmed beating up people who were trying to vote. Pensioners were left bloodied and bruised, women were pulled from buildings by their hair, youngsters trying to get into a polling station were attacked by GC officers in full riot gear using their shields as weapons. One video showed a GC officer jumping downstairs onto someone who was lying on the ground. More than 900 people were injured badly enough to need treatment.

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Ballot papers were stolen by the GC, both before the referendum and during polling day, Catalan Government Ministers were arrested in the days leading up to it and the Spanish Government said that Catalonia should “stop this radicalism and disobedience”. Disobedience! Just now the Spanish Government is threatening the removal of the Catalan Government and new elections after it (the Spanish Government) takes over Catalan broadcasters.

If it had happened in Zimbabwe governments and politicians all across the world would be saying that it showed how unfit Mugabe is and how he runs a repressive regime. If it happened in Sudan people writing columns in newspapers or reporting in excited tones from outside polling stations would be saying that it showed how unstable the country still was. It happened and is happening in Spain, though, and the response has been pathetic.

Spain is an EU Member State and should be upholding the human rights of its citizens as part of the burdens that carries. You might expect some of the EU institutions and the people who head them to have an opinion on it. Well, their opinion is that it is an internal matter for Spain to resolve and that no-one should interfere. One EU bigwig suggested that the violence of the Guardia Civil was ‘proportionate’.

The very idea of proportionate violence being meted out to citizens who want to vote is ridiculous. Violence is not proportionate and breaking the heads of peaceful voters is not part of the process in a modern democracy. It’s been suggested that there are negotiations behind the scenes to try to bring Spain back to civilisation but if there are they should not be undermined by the public pronouncements of EU civil servants.

No EU Government has condemned it, either. The UK Government looked the other way – a matter for Spain to decide, we don’t interfere in other countries internal politics. Well, we do when there is a clear and unequivocal wrong being committed. We did against Apartheid South Africa and we did in Rwanda (eventually), we even intervened in the last European wars in the Balkans. We’ve offered help and mediation through various agencies to countries in various parts of the world that found themselves in turmoil. We intervene when we feel like it.

So praise is due to the Belgian Prime Minister, Charles Michel, and to his Slovenian counterpart, Miro Cerar, who were the only European leaders who openly condemned the violence, and a bit of praise for some of the UN officials who called on Spain to let people go peacefully about their business. The UK Government and the other EU Governments should hang their heads in shame, though.

Spain’s actions are the actions of all of the Member States of the EU because their continued support for Spain tars us all with that brush. Where we have allowed Spain to do this we have allowed it to be done in our name and when we do not condemn these actions we endorse them.

Catalonia has a long way to go and the other autonomous regions within Spain will also be looking at the journey they want to take. The answer can never be state violence against its citizens or repression of a democratic voice. The future of Spain is a matter for the people of Spain, the future of Catalonia is a matter for the people of Catalonia, but violation of the principles of democracy and modern statehood is a matter for us all.

Stand by Spain, stand by Catalonia, choose for yourself but, above all, stand by democracy and freedom from state violence.

Twitter: @DeidreBrock

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