The October Revolution in Catalonia

  • Tearing up the Statute on the 20th of September, the referendum on the 1st of October, the general strike on the 3rd of October: those are the historical keys from the start of this autumn which will open up Catalonia's immediate future. And after everything which has happened in Catalonia over the last two weeks, it is hard to imagine any route other than that towards independence.

Xabier Letona @xletona
2017ko urriaren 04a
Photo: Irantzu Pastor

Catalan separatism followed a clear path up to yesterday's crossroads, and was met by the Spanish state's complete immobility when, following the 2015 autonomous community elections; the choice to be taken was between declaring independence or holding a referendum.  After moments of tension within the independence movement, which includes people from the right and people from the left, they chose to hold a referendum. The people in favour of that decision believed that it would be better understood by the people of Catalonia as well as internationally; and, above all, it would give greater legality  to the decision which would have to be taken afterwards. They were absolutely right. The main conclusion to this is clear: the referendum on Sunday put Catalonia at the door to independence.

A Whole People in the Street

We decided to follow the referendum from Barcelona, its epicentre, but finding our place there was not straightforward. What should we follow? Where should we go? What should we underline? We chose the Sants and Gràcia districts to follow the referendum-revolution, both of them being lively places and very pro-independence. We were there from five in the morning until midday, and then spent the afternoon in the centre of Barcelona, mostly at the polling station in the Gothic district. But we had a hard job finding polling stations. We asked a local police officer and were told that most of them has been closed during the morning; in fact, the officer had not yet been able to vote, and was going to do so at a school after finishing work at six o'clock.

Some people were going to be out in the streets, and other people at home, of course; we saw the people out there, in the front row as history was in the making. We reached the school gates at five o'clock and it was an incredible sight at Sants School: whole families in the street, young people, old people… all sorts of people. Everyone was ready to defend the urns, and not just metaphorically. When the Catalonian police turned up, or anybody else, they formed a human wall in front of the school gates. “Votarem”, “votarem” was their on-going cry, “We are going to vote”, and sometimes: “The streets are always going to be ours”.

A lot of tension, showers of rain, applause for the oldest people going in to vote, hugs for people coming out from voting, cyber attacks and half the polling stations closed, then all of them open again, immense queues of people waiting to vote… All shows of solidarity were warmly applauded. Those were the things we saw at the gates of Sants and Gràcia schools time and again. The Catalonian police went up the school gates to give them warnings, but the people sent them back, sometimes shouting and sometimes saying "this is our police force". "Trapero is a hero to us", the taxi driver who took us there in the morning had said to us.

News about the attacks taking place at many other schools spread among people, and the main reaction was incomprehension: "We have to suffer this because we want to vote?" That feeling spread throughout society in some extent or another. And once more it became clear that the most productive factory for Catalan independence is in Madrid.

The headline for what happened on Sunday was 'A People Defending its Referendum, Freedom and Democracy'. Talking about a people might sound like a cliché to some, but in the streets of Barcelona on Sunday it was clear to see. However, and even if only not to be blinded just by what happened in the street, 80% of the representatives in the Catalan parliament also defended the referendum.

Abroad Spain's image has changed considerably since the 20th of September. Internationally, and especially in Europe, the main media and governments have found it hard to swallow Madrid's use of violence and its closed immobility. That was clearly reflected in the international press on Sunday and Monday.

Proclamation of Independence

If something became very clear from Sunday onwards it was that the story is no longer that of a leading actor (Spain) and an internal problem it has (Catalonia). There are now two main actors (Spain and Catalonia) and there will have to be negotiations to solve the problems between them. In other words, the Catalan independence movement has won the story.

The data from a referendum is always important and is usually decisive, but not so much in this case, above all because it was not a normal referendum. Bearing in mind that it was a referendum carried out under the Spanish government's attacks and in clandestine conditions, almost 2.3 million people voting was an incredible victory, even more so the fact that 90% of them voted from independence. It has been calculated that a further 700,000 people were unable to vote because of schools being closed down.

But it was more than just the result of the referendum, the victory came from other sources too, mostly a combination of strength on the streets and institutional power. Society has push the institutions towards independence, they has responded appropriately, and the street has protected and defended the legality of the institutions' decisions.

Cycle of Bringing Forces Together

The last station on the current route will be the Catalan parliament declaring independence on Tuesday morning. And back to the cycle: there will be a general strike to defend the proclamation of independence.


Joy in Barcelona when hearing the referendum results. Photo: Javi JulioArgazki oina


Two Pictures: Repression and Citizen Power

The violence used by Madrid was the main image in the press from the first of October. It was savage, as police behaviour often has been around us, and the Catalans were fortunate to have the eyes of the world on them. The great work they have done abroad has also paid off.

Police violence was one picture, there is no doubt about that, but it was not the main one. Of the 2,300 polling stations, about 100 were subjected to violence, and the Catalan police closed a further 200 without using violence. It was astonishing, but did not reflect the day's main picture. An even more important event was more than two million people defending their polling stations and voting, in tense situations but with great determination and joy.

One of the most striking things in Barcelona was the scale of the preparations for the referendum in all areas. The paradox was that the Catalan government had to prepare a clandestine referendum, but needed the citizens' help in order to do so. There was a smell of the clandestine in Barcelona when you went to places connected with the referendum:  “Who are you?”, “Somebody's going to come”, “I don't know”, “We'll find out at the right time”… “Who's in charge?”, the Catalan police officer asks, “We all are”, the citizens reply in unison at the school gates.

Spain Afraid of an Explosion

And what about the Spanish government? Will it be capable of switching from violence to politics? It will have to deal with a new chapter, but there are many reasons to suppose it will carry on as it has done until present, although they may regret not having offered the Catalans some candies before now, and they will have to change their tune. They are now going to have to choose between independence and agreeing on a referendum. That is, of course, if the whole of 1978 Spain does not blow up in Mariano Rajoy's face.

It is also worth taking the great Catalan historian Josep Fontana's words into account. This is what he has said in recent days when asked about Catalan independence: "Yes, the Catalan government will ask Madrid to please remove its army, police force and Civil Guard, and they answer okay, wait a moment, right away." Those are not the exact words, but that is the idea. Clearly, not taking that into account would be naive. Pro-independence Catalans are aware of that, but, with regard to Spain, they prefer to underline what Omnium chairman Jordi Cuixart said on Friday evening at the end-of-campaign meeting in Barcelona: "If I'm not afraid, you have no power."

This article was translated by 11itzulpen.

Kanal hauetan artxibatua: English  |  Kataluniako erreferenduma

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