Catalan Referendum

How Spain Reacted to Catalonia (Sort of) Declaring Independence

"The violence is only going to get worse because the far-right is accusing Rajoy of being too soft. He’s going to want to prove to them that he is really tough."

by Ana Iris Simón and Jordi Llorca
Oct 11 2017, 12:53pm

All photos courtesy of Ana Iris Simon and Jordi Llorca

This article originally appeared on VICE Spain

On the 1st of October, 2017, thousands of Catalans voted in an independence referendum – a vote the Spanish government has ruled unconstitutional. On the day of the referendum, riot police used their batons and rubber bullets outside a number of polling stations in an attempt to stop Catalans from voting. By the end of the day, 844 people and 33 officers had been treated for their injuries.

Ever since the vote, tensions between both sides have continued to rise as Catalan president Carles Puigdemont maintained that the region will declare independence, while Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy has stated the government will do whatever it can to stop Catalonia from seceding.

On Tuesday the 11th of October, Puigdemont finally delivered his long awaited speech, in which he said that Catalonia will honour its pledge to declare independence, but will put implementation on hold for several weeks to allow for a negotiated solution with Spain. In response, Rajoy accused Puigdemont of deliberately causing confusion by not making it clear whether the region has officially declared secession or not.

Following Puigdemont's speech, we asked young people across the country to tell us whether they think he did the right thing, and what they hope will happen next.

Miquel, 27, Barcelona

Miquel.

VICE: Do you support Puigdemont's decision?
Miquel: I was really hoping this was the day Catalonia was finally going to declare independence. But us Catalans always like to play things safe, so I can't really pretend to be that surprised.

How do you think the Spanish government will respond?
Both sides will continue to attack each other, like they always do. Whatever happens, the Catalan government must remain focused and remember the objective is independence.

Are you ready to keep protesting for independence?
Yes. Fortunately I work flexible hours, so I'm always ready to hit the streets.

Ana, 19, Jaen

Ana.

VICE: Puigdemont has chosen dialogue over unilateral independence. Was that a smart move?
Ana: I'm worried that it might be too little, too late – proper dialogue between both sides should have happened a long time ago. The last time the Catalan government called for negotiations, the Spanish government refused to engage with them. Let's see what happens this time.

What do you think the Spanish government will do now?
I can't read Prime Minister Rajoy's mind, but I think he will continue to refuse to acknowledge the results of the referendum.

Do you think people will continue to fly Spanish flags from their balconies?
Whatever happens politically, the flags will stay there until the football World Cup as a way for people show their support for the national team. Not everything is about politics!

Cristina, 22, Barcelona

Cristina (right).

VICE: What did you think of Puigdemont's speech?
Cristina: From what I understood, he declared independence, and all that's left is for the Spanish and Catalan governments to come to an agreement in the next few weeks. To be honest, I'm not very optimistic that the two sides are capable of cooperating. When talks eventually break down, Catalonia will have no choice but to secede.

Are you disappointed that you have to wait a few more weeks for a final declaration?
Not really, because I appreciate that these are complicated issues that take time. I'd rather politicians did things calmly, for once, rather than always rushing to make decisions.

Do you plan to keep protesting for independence?
Definitely, I'll never stop.

Beatriz, 20, Valencia

Beatriz.

VICE: Do you really expect the two sides will come together and have civil conversations?
Beatriz: No, not at all. The Spanish government will do whatever it can to block Catalonian independence. The violence is only going to get worse, because the far-right is accusing Rajoy of being too soft. He's going to want to prove to them that he is really tough.

Are you afraid that Spain will become more polarised?
Yes, especially if the Spanish government decides to get more aggressive. We won't only see more conflict between the police and demonstrators, but between friends, family members and co-workers. The extreme right is really mobilised and are ready to use the issue to stoke divisions throughout our society.

What would you do if you were Rajoy?
I would create a de-centralised system that would officially recognise the autonomy and culture of each region, without having to break up the whole country. Catalans just want to be able to establish certain laws, such as banning bullfighting, which the rest of Spain does not agree with. This new model might not be perfect, but it would at least calm their desire for full independence.

Who would you hire to come and mediate between the two sides?
I'm not sure, maybe Yoko Ono.

Gabriel, 26, Barcelona

Gabriel.

VICE: Are you happy or disappointed?
Gabriel: To be honest, I'm relieved – I was starting to worry that Puigdemont was becoming too hasty and reckless in his actions.

What's next?
I really don't know. I'm not pro-independence, but if the Spanish government continues to act as aggressively as it has been, then I will choose an independent Catalonia.

Rafa, 27, Madrid

VICE: Puigdemont's statement really surprised a lot of people. What did you make of it?
Rafa: I don't believe anything either side is saying – they are just trying to distract us from all of the many economic and social problems in the country. It's a political strategy on both sides.

How do you think the government will respond to the speech?
The Spanish government believes the referendum was unconstitutional; it's as simple as that. They're not going to change their minds now.

Will that not just make the Catalan people more desperate for independence?
Every time Rajoy speaks, more people become pro-independence.

Are you pro-union?
All I care about is the independent republic of my house.