Catalonia, an autonomous community of northeast Spain, initiated a vote today for independence from the Spanish national government. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy declared the vote to be illegal, and sent thousands of soldiers and riot police to the estranged district to physically prevent voters from entry into public voting locations. Reports of hundreds of peaceful voters repelled with rubber bullets and baton charges flood the internet and officials from surrounding countries have called on the violence to end. Catalonians have used zero violence in an effort explore a referendum for independence, but Spain is refusing to even let Catalonians engage in the act. It is obvious Spain wants to keep Catalonia and they have resorted to violence to prevent any momentum toward a separation.
It’s unclear how the independence would exactly work, with many questions left unanswered, including the economic implications of a border, obstacles to trade, and the creation of new public institutions. Catalonia is the richest region in Spain, which includes Barcelona. Should it be sufficiently allowed to take place, it’s unclear whether the vote would pass, though it appears the majority of voters to turn out in the midst of the chaos will be supporters of independence.
Regardless, the violence on display is shocking. That PM Rajoy would result to violence to end the vote before it starts demonstrates how the Spanish government must use coercion to enforce their authority over its citizens. Resistance to separation is nothing new, with civil wars, colonial fights for independence, and even sovereign nations like Great Britain exiting the EU, all of which are usually met with violence and chaos. However, I see no justification for violence when none has been initiated against the Spanish state. As a fan of decentralization in general, I see the vote as legitimate, especially given Catalonia’s history and their obvious desire to be free and independent. Spain cannot continue to claim authority over an autonomous region who rules themselves and do not want to be part of Spain.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out of the next 24 hours and see what reaction Spain see’s from the rest of the world.