Catalan Referendum

Young Catalans Protesting Spanish Police Violence Talk About What's Next

"The Spanish government can't ignore the outcome of the referendum – it would be an insult to the hundreds of people who were injured in the violence."

by Jordi Llorca
03 October 2017, 5:06pm

All photos by Jordi Llorca

This article originally appeared on VICE Spain

On Sunday the 1st of October, Catalans took to the polls in a referendum on their independence – a referendum that the Spanish government and a Spanish court had ruled unconstitutional. In response, Spanish riot police closed off polling stations and used batons and rubber bullets to stop voters from casting their ballots. By the end of the day, 844 people and 33 officers had been treated for their injures. Still, the voter turnout was a little over 40 percent, and according to Catalonian president Carles Puigdemont, 90 percent of voters backed independence.

Demonstrations are now set to take place across Catalonia this week – protesting Sunday's police violence and the Spanish government's refusal to accept the outcome of the referendum. Today, Catalonians held a general strike, which led to countless schools, universities and businesses – including FC Barcelona – shutting down for the day.

An earlier protest took place on Monday, the day after the referendum, in the streets of Barcelona. I spoke to young Catalans there about the future of Catalonia.

Oscar (20), Andreas (20) and Marc (19)

Oscar, Andreas and Marc.

VICE: What do you think is next for Catalonia?
Marc: The Spanish government can't simply ignore how the Catalans voted – it would be an insult to all the people who were injured by the police, on Sunday. Catalonia should be allowed to declare independence, after what happened.

But don't you think that will only incite more violence?
Andres: Our protests are peaceful. It got violent at many polling stations, but that was coming from the Spanish side – it was just their attempt to stop us from voting.

More demonstrations are set to take place throughout the week.

Would you say this is the most important fight of our generation?
Andres: It's not just young people who are fighting for the right to vote on independence – generations of Catalans have been waiting for this moment for decades. I think it's amazing to see young people, old people and everyone in between coming together for this.

Clara (20) and Laia (19)

Clara and Laia.

VICE: Do you think protesting here will help achieve Catalan independence?
Clara: Between the demonstrations and the strike, I think we're achieving a lot. I don't know if it's enough, but the most important thing is that Catalans don't give up. We need to keep taking to the streets and demanding that we're heard.
Laia: And it's not like we're just standing here for Catalan independence – we're here to protest Sunday's police violence too.

The turnout of the referendum was only 40 percent, though. Do you think the outcome still stands?
The court and the Spanish government may have said the referendum was unconstitutional, but we still have the right to vote. A lot more people would have voted if the police hadn't been so violent, so the low turnout doesn't mean much to me.
Laia: I think that for every person who voted, there were 10 people who were stopped from voting by the police. The turnout is no reason for the government to reject the result of the referendum.

Jordi (24) and Núria (24)

Jordi and Núria.

VICE: Hey, what do you think is next for Catalonia?
Jordi: Unfortunately, we're probably going to see more violence. I think the Spanish government will start arresting Catalan politicians, especially Puigdemont.
Núria: I don't know what will happen next, but I know I'm striking. I've already told my boss I'm not coming to work.

What would you do if you were President Rajoy?
Jordi: I would resign if I were him. The images of violence on Sunday are deeply embarrassing for Spain – the whole of Europe was watching.

If we see any change in the near future, do you think it'll come from politicians or from people?
The government needs to start doing its job and listen to the people. The issue of Catalan independence has been debated for such a long time – I think it's now up to the Catalan people to push for the next step, whatever that is.

Roger (25), Pol (19), Pedro (18) and Ian (18)

Roger (left), Pol (middle in green), Pedro (second right), Ian (right).

VICE: What's next for Catalonia?
Roger: Nobody knows, not even the government.

Do you think Catalonia should just declare itself independent from Spain?
Roger: No, I don't think so. Both sides should keep negotiating.
Pol: But talking has never worked. To me, it's clear that the Spanish government has never shown a lot of interest in having a proper discussion about the issue. I think Catalan officials need to keep working towards independence, but they should really consider all the consequences before making any kind of decision on the matter.

Not all protesters in Catalonia are in favour of independence – many are just supporting the right to vote on the issue.

Rajoy has stated that the response of the police during the referendum was appropriate.
Roger: Of course it wasn't – and the entire world could see what happened.
Pol: If you ask me, police acted like we're living in a dictatorship.
Ian: They will always claim that they were just trying to defend Spain's independence.

None of you are wearing or carrying Catalan flags, though.
We didn't all vote the same way.
Roger: It's not just about politics – we're here to protest the police violence we saw on Sunday.

Marta (22) and Sergi (22)

Marta and Sergi.

VICE: Would you say referendum day was a success for Catalonia?
Sergi: It was a historic day – I think it's a turning point for the future of the country. This is our opportunity to make a difference.

Do you think more people came out to vote as a form of protest against the violence?
Yes, a lot of people voted not based on ideology, but because of the way the police and the Spanish government handled it. The referendum was about a lot more than just politics. In my opinion, whether you like Puigdemont or not, he stuck to his promise to hold the referendum – which was what the people wanted.

Ivan (25)

VICE: What do you think the Spanish government should do next?
Ivan: Rajoy's entire government should resign immediately. They won't, of course, because they defended the violence. What's important for us in Catalonia is to stand up for our sovereignty, and protest the fact that they used violence to repress our right to vote.

What if that leads to more violence?
We shouldn't be afraid of that, but we'll keep taking to the streets in a peaceful way.

Many protesters were embarrassed by the images of violence that were seen around the world.

What should Puigdemont do?
He should declare independence.

But don't you think a 40 percent turnout is too low for a mandate?
So many people were willing to go out and vote despite all of that police violence – to me, that means that Puigdemont has earned the right to declare independence. After he does, we will just have to wait and see how the Spanish government responds. I respect everyone's views, but if what happened on Sunday is not enough for people to take to the streets and protest the Spanish government, then I don't know what is.