In Spain, tensions are escalating over Sunday’s independence referendum in the northeast region of Catalonia. More than 800 people were injured after Spanish police stormed polling stations and tried to forcibly prevent people from voting, firing tear gas and physically attacking prospective voters. Late on Sunday night, the Catalan regional government said 90 percent of Catalan voters chose independence. The Catalan government now says it plans to unilaterally declare independence from Spain within 48 hours. Spain says it will recognize neither the results of the referendum nor a declaration of independence. The escalating conflict is being described as the biggest constitutional crisis in Spain since the end of the Franco dictatorship in the 1970s. For more, we speak with Sebastiaan Faber, professor of Hispanic studies at Oberlin College and author of the forthcoming book “Memory Battles of the Spanish Civil War: History, Fiction, Photography.” He’s the co-author of an article in The Nation headlined “Have Spain and Catalonia Reached a Point of No Return?” We also speak with Pau Faus, filmmaker and writer from Barcelona, Spain. His recent documentary “Ada for Mayor” follows the campaign of Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau.
AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman in New York. Juan González is at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, as we end today’s show by looking at the escalating conflict in Spain over Sunday’s independence referendum in the northeast region of Catalonia. More than 800 people were injured, after Spanish police stormed polling stations, tried to forcibly prevent people from voting, firing tear gas and physically attacking prospective voters. The Spanish government says the referendum was illegal. Ahead of Sunday’s vote, Spanish police seized control of ballots and fliers, raided the Catalan regional government’s offices, even shut down pro-independence websites.
Late on Sunday night, the Catalan regional government said 90 percent of Catalan voters chose independence. The Catalan government now says it plans to unilaterally declare independence from Spain within 48 hours. Spain says it will neither recognize the results of the referendum nor a declaration of independence. The escalating conflict is being described as the biggest constitutional crisis in Spain since the end of the Franco dictatorship in the ’70s.
For more, we’re joined by two guests. In Cleveland, Ohio, Sebastiaan Faber is with us, professor of Hispanic studies at Oberlin College, author of the forthcoming book Memory Battles of the Spanish Civil War: History, Fiction, Photography. He’s co-author of a piece in The Nation magazine headlined “Have Spain and Catalonia Reached a Point of No Return?” And here in New York, Pau Faus is with us, a filmmaker and writer from Barcelona, Spain. His recent documentary is about the mayor of Barcelona. It’s called Ada for Mayor, following the campaign of Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let us begin with Sebastiaan Faber. Give us context. What happened leading up to this cataclysm that took place yesterday in Catalonia, 800 people injured by Spanish police?
SEBASTIAAN FABER: Well, actually, the story starts about seven years ago, when the Spanish Constitutional Court rejected as unconstitutional a new statute for Catalonia, which is an autonomous region in Spain’s current constitutional makeup. And that was felt in Catalonia as a slap in the face, as only one more proof that the Spanish state is unwilling to recognize or respect Catalan’s—the identity and the right to self-government of the people in Catalonia.
From that moment on, an independence movement grew in Catalonia that, about five years ago, was joined by the Catalan conservative party, along with parties on the left, that ended up joining in a coalition for independence, a very interesting coalition including both left and right. And they declared their intention to hold a referendum on self-determination. They tried to do one in 2014 that was nonbinding, and then they decided to push for a binding referendum this year. The Spanish state has consistently said that the referendum is illegal, that the Spanish Constitution does not allow for a referendum like that, which is true. But the Catalan government said, “Well, let’s then sit down and dialogue and see what we can do to find a way that we catalanes feel that we can fit into the Spanish state, because currently we don’t.”
Over the past three weeks, the Spanish state has acted incredibly harshly and rigidly in response to the challenge posed by Catalonia. And yesterday’s events, which you described just now, only confirm the very worst image that the catalanes have of the Spanish state. And for me, the culminating moment was the press conference that the Spanish prime minister, Rajoy, gave last night, in which he showed his complete incapacity. He was completely incapable of acknowledging what had happened. He spoke of police acting serenely, and he basically excommunicated the 2.2 [million] or so catalanes who went to vote, risking not their lives, but taking a dangerous—risking getting hurt, getting beat up by police that were shipped in from the rest of Spain. And I think by his lack of acknowledging the genuine feelings and the genuine aspirations of these people in Catalonia, he’s showing his entire—that he’s incapable of solving this crisis. There’s no way he—
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to Catalan’s leader, Carles Puigdemont, who was speaking on Sunday.
PRESIDENT CARLES PUIGDEMONT: [translated] Today, Catalonia has won many referendums. We have earned the rights to be listened to, respected and recognized. Today, millions of people mobilized, facing difficulties and threats, and they have spoken loud and clear. We have sent a message to the world. We have the right to decide our future. We have the right to be free. And we want to live in peace, without violence and apart from a state that is incapable of promoting one single thing rather than imposition and the use of brute force.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Carles Puigdemont, the president of Catalonia. Juan, you have a question.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes, Sebastiaan, I’d like to ask you, given this unprecedented crackdown by the government, what do you envision will be the position of the European Union—I mean, because Spain is part of the European Union—to have such a blatant attack on basically a people within Spain insisting on being able to vote on their status?
SEBASTIAAN FABER: That’s a really good question. Yesterday, the signals from the EU were signals of worry. A couple of leading EU politicians and leaders expressed their dismay at what they—at the images coming out of Catalonia. That said, the EU is very unlikely to intervene in what they still see as internal affairs of Spain. The EU has a policy of noninterference in domestic affairs of its members. So, the EU is unlikely to openly condemn the Spanish state, for example, for the way it behaved yesterday. That said, I think the EU will be calling for dialogue. It will be trying to, maybe through backdoor diplomacy, to push the Rajoy government to sit down and to start that dialogue that Catalonia has been asking for for years now and that Madrid has steadfastly refused to engage in.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Pau Faus into this discussion, a Catalonian filmmaker who made a movie about Ada Colau, Ada Colau who just attacked the president of Spain, criticized him, saying Rajoy has been a “coward, hiding behind prosecutors and courts; he crossed all red lines with the police actions against normal people, old people, families, who were defending their fundamental rights. And we heard from the Catalan leader, Carles Puigdemont. Your response, as you look at what’s happened in your city, in your region of Spain, Catalonia?
PAU FAUS: Well, the images are so strong. I mean, yesterday, there were families, old people, little children, just defending schools to be able to vote. Some of them slept there overnight. So, many people were like there for more than 24 hours, so the school would be open when the voting started. So it was a very strong movement of self-organization.
And at the same time, the only response that the government, the Spanish government, offered were the images that—we thought this could happen, but, really, the images that we saw yesterday are far beyond from what we expected. And I was, before, listening to the mayor of San Juan, and it reminded me a little bit. You know, the way the Spanish government and the Spanish president is talking about what happened yesterday in Barcelona is so different from the perception from what is happening in there. So, the Spanish government is talking about the use of violence is something that—like what the situation deserved, while people in Barcelona are telling that the violence used was totally out of measure. I mean, the government of Barcelona offered medical help to the people, also legal, legal help to respond to this, because the situation has been very, very far away from what everybody thought could happen.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to continue this discussion in Part 2. I want to thank our guests, Pau Faus, filmmaker—Ada for Mayor was his film. I also want to thank Sebastiaan Faber, professor of Hispanic studies at Oberlin College. With my colleague Juan González at Rutgers University, I’m Amy Goodman. Our website is democracynow.org.