BY VICTORIA WANG ’20
A protest campaign broke out in St. James's Square in central Barcelona on Friday, Nov. 3. According to the BBC, the protest was triggered by legal action taken late Thursday afternoon by a Spanish judge, ordering the imprisonment of eight former Catalan government members for supporting Catalonia’s independence.
Thousands of people rallied outside the two buildings of the Palau Generalitat and City Hall, as reported by CNN. The crowd waved Catalan flags, chanting the unofficial Catalan national anthem, marching and shouting slogans such as “freedom for the political prisoners” and “Puigdemont is our president”.
The protest also supported two grassroots separatist activists, Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, who their supporters call the “two Jordis.” They were arrested on Oct. 1 before the referendum and then fled to Belgium where they are currently awaiting charges of sedition.
More protests were held in Barcelona, and a number of different regions in Spain, against the detention of Catalan separatist politicians. The eight former officials were transferred to the Alcala-Meco Prison outside Madrid by national police.
According to the Washington Post, former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont refused to appear at the Madrid court on Thursday, saying that the charges were politically motivated. The leaders are facing prison terms of up to 30 years. Following their absence at the high court hearing, the Spanish government executive issued European Arrest Warrants (EAW) for Puigdemont and four of his closest advisors.
Disputes over Catalonia’s independence have occurred for over 40 years. The BBC said arguments for Catalonian independence are primarily motivated by complaints that the Spanish government, with its implementation of fiscal redistribution and its changes to its autonomous status in 2010, undermined Catalonian identity.
The crisis has escalated over the past month. On Oct. 1, a Catalonian vote for independence was held despite the Spanish’s Constitutional Court adjudicating its illegitimacy. Voter participation, however, was lower than expected. Data collected by BBC News showed that only 43 percent of the Catalan population voted for Catalonia’s independence, while more than a half chose not to vote.
Although the region’s cultural differences and its economic strength justify its desire for independence, Rebecca Piperno ’20, does not think independence is the most viable option right now. “They would not only have to have a very successful secessionist referendum within their own region, which was not as popular as could have hoped, but the entirety of the Spanish state would have to take part in it, [as] stated in the Spanish constitution and Catalonia,” said Piperno.
On Oct. 27, the Catalan parliament took a vote, and Carles Puigdemont and his cabinet unanimously declared Catalonia's independence. Now, less than two weeks later, he and his colleagues are either in exile, on bail or in prison.
Protesters at the Friday night demonstration called the prosecution of the Puigdemont administration an act of political revenge by Madrid. This imprisonment has not mitigated support to the leaders, but rather boasted their popularity: the eight imprisoned politicians may now become a gallery of icons for the pro-independence cause, according to the BBC.
“Their jailing is only helping fuel the justified Catalonian anger towards the Spanish government,” said Piperno. “If this had happened in any other region of the world that was not Europe, we would already be hearing versions of the story recounted from a human rights violation perspective, and not like a subject up for debate.”
As of Sunday morning CNN reported that Puigdemont and four associates have turned themselves in to Belgian police. Their case will be heard by the national court on Sunday afternoon and the judge will decide whether the formalities for the extradition request have been fulfilled on Monday morning. Madrid has temporarily taken over administrative control in Catalonia, until a regional election can be called on Dec. 21, as reported by Reuters.