Tensions rise ahead of 'illegal' Catalan referendum

Polarization sweeping through Spain, Catalonia as both sides engage in standoff over democracy

Tensions rise ahead of 'illegal' Catalan referendum

World Bulletin / News Desk

As September draws to an uneasy end in Spain, Oct. 1 looms heavily on the horizon as the date set by the Catalan government for a vote on the creation of a Catalan Republic and secession from Spain.

Yet, with less than 48 hours to go, the governments in Madrid and Barcelona continue on a political crash course.

Spain’s central government, led by conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, says the vote simply will not happen. “The referendum was never legal or legitimate, and now it’s an impossible pipedream,” said Rajoy in an address to the nation last week.

The Catalan government’s steps towards the referendum are illegal, according to Spanish law. This month, the Spanish Constitutional Court suspended referendum-related legislation passed by the Catalan parliament, majority lead by a pro-separatist coalition, and prosecutors are ordering police to ensure the referendum does not occur.

So far, police have confiscated millions of ballot papers, envelopes, instruction guides and shut down websites related to the referendum.

More than a dozen officials thought to be organizing the referendum were detained, and many have been charged with sedition, misappropriation of funds and disobedience.

The police presence has been doubled in Catalonia, according to Joaquim Forn, Catalan interior minister, and three cruise ships full of police are docked in Barcelona’s port.

Spain has taken over Catalonia’s budget to prevent spending and police have been ordered to block or close public buildings where the vote is meant to be held on Sunday.

So, will there even be a vote?

When asked by Anadolu Agency: “On a scale of one to 10, how optimistic are you that a vote will happen, and if that vote happens, and ‘yes’ wins, that Catalonia will declare independence?” Joan Maria Pique, the Catalan government’s director for foreign communication, answered “10.”

This sentiment echoes the position of the Catalan government, which vows there will be a vote. And Carles Puigdemont, president of the Catalan government, says Madrid will not be able to stop it.

The government has now launched an app that informs citizens about where to vote and the Catalan police force says its primary duty is to maintain public order, not necessarily to stop the referendum as Spanish coordination demands.

“It’s evident that the government’s actions have changed some conditions, but what it hasn’t changed, in fact what I think has improved, is will of the people to vote,” said Puigdemont in an interview on Thursday with Spanish digital media outlet, eldiario.com.

Thousands of people have taken to the streets and declared their support for the referendum, including unions, teachers groups and students. They have been instructed to leave their house early on Sunday morning to wait in line to vote, advised to bring food and water and prepare for what could be a long day.

However, even if voting does occur in certain locations, the government of Spain is likely not to consider it a “referendum.” Diplomatic sources from the Spanish government told Anadolu Agency what will happen on Sunday will be a “party” or demonstration, but nothing resembling a legitimate referendum.

And despite the passions provoked on both sides, there has been no violence nor calls to violence, but the tension has turned Catalan independence into a powder keg in Western Europe. And both governments hold an unlit pack of matches.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 30 Eylül 2017, 12:03