Swanson: Spain’s Strategy of Occupying and Ignoring Catalonia is Not Going to Work Out

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By Gavin Swanson, Opinion Writer

On this upcoming Monday, Catalonia will declare itself as an independent state separate from the Kingdom of Spain. After an unofficial vote in 2014 where 80 percent of Catalan voters chose secession, on Oct. 1, 90 percent of voters determined that Catalonia should begin to take the course of action towards independence. The actions of the Catalan parliament was quite obviously not welcomed by the Spanish government. In 2015, the courts ruled that a pro-independence solution passed by Catalonia would be unconstitutional. In September of this year, the courts suspended the ballot, seized millions of ballots and fined members of the electoral board. However, this did not stop the region from attending the polling stations in October.

This all came to a head on the day of the vote when Spanish police began to suppress the vote using riot shields and rubber bullets. In what was essentially Spain attempting to occupy Catalonia, citizens, police officers and even firefighters were injured. This rightfully outraged the citizens of Catalonia and concerned disciples of democracy worldwide.

Now, this article’s focus is not whether Catalonia should remain in Spanish borders, it’s simply discussing that Madrid’s actions are not going to quell those who call for independence in Catalonia or other regions, primarily the actions taken on Oct. 1.

Like I previously mentioned, the Spanish constitutional court had already ruled that Catalonia attempting to leave the Kingdom would be unconstitutional. They already had the legal grounding to keep Catalonia, even after the referendum. Instead of keeping with the legal route that they had set in place for the past couple of months, Spain went instead with the strategy of intimidation and ignorance.

By ignoring the unofficial vote in 2014 and this referendum in 2017, Madrid chooses to ignore the obviously dissatisfied citizens in Catalonia. If Spain continues to insist that Catalonia is a part of its nation, then it needs to treat its citizens as citizens of Spain. By not listening to the loud cries in Barcelona, Spain further illustrates the separatists’ points that citizens of the Catalan region are not citizens of Spain. The government should have acknowledged the divide in its nation back in 2014, and then made efforts to re-amend and reaffirm that Catalonia’s interests are Spain’s interests. And in 2017 they should have allowed the referendum to continue as planned, and then took legal action and begin to heal the alienation between Madrid and Barcelona.

Spain sending in fully equipped riot police to suppress the region was quite possibly one of the worst things it could have done to heal its broken nation. Nothing sparks and inflames resentment in a group of people quicker than having uniformed officials loaded with weapons marching down the street, bullying the people and local authority figures. It’s obviously not a good look for a supposedly democratic nation like Spain to have armed police raid polling stations to prevent people from casting their vote. By taking this action, all Spain has done is give Catalonia more reason to want to secede from their parent nation, give people in other Spanish regions a reason to want to vote for their own independence and create worldwide sympathy for Catalonia and its people.

Unfortunately for the people of Catalonia, gaining their independence will not be as simple as one vote. Spain will do everything in its power to keep its kingdom united, and this will only possibly waiver if things become more violent, or if the international community steps in on behalf of the Catalan people. However, the current strategy they have decided to implement to prevent this from happening has done nothing but give further traction to the independence parties in the region. By choosing to not address its citizens and even brutalizing them with their police force, Spain has emboldened the cause of people in Barcelona and other Catalan cities.