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Horror and Hope in Catalonia on October 1 (by Mathew Tree)

The next issue was written by Mathew Tree in his facebook. 
     He gently allowed me to publish it here.

On the evening of the September 30th, I went on a stroll to my nearest polling station, the Fort Pienc primary school at the far eastern end of Barcelona's Eixample district; the same school which my children had attended from the ages of three to twelve. So I knew quite a lot of the people there, who were putting up signs on the walls supporting democracy and the right to vote and were going to spend the night there, organising activities that were non-referendum-related, as they knew they would get visits from the Catalan police, who had instructions to close any premises in which 'referendum-realted activity' was taking place. 
The police had been twice, had been exquisitely polite, took note of the number of people staying overnight and left. The atmosphere inside was bristling with excitement, of a kind I'd seen before (on the major Catalan demonstrations of 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017) when people who thought they'd never stand a chance of seeing any real change in Catalonia suddenly found themselves doing the changing themselves.

An app named 'Call to Democracy', downloaded by millions of people, advised everyone who wasn't staying the night to be at the polling stations at 5am the following day: four hours before they opened. This was to prevent any attempts by the police to break in and steal the ballot boxes. I got there at five to five, it was still dark, and already hundreds of people were waiting in a drizzle which took another quarter of an hour to turn into a downpour. Nobody left, including the ones without umbrellas. We waited and chatted. At around six, I went back home to get an umbrella and some dry shoes and socks. On the way back I went to the bar of the bus station opposite the polling station for some water. The Catalan government spokesman was on the TV, announcing that, in order to allow citizens to vote at schools which had been evacuated and sealed off by the police, a universal census had been activated, meaning that with suitable ID, anyone could vote at any available polling station. Not long after I got back to the crowd, the streetlamps clicked off, just as natural light was starting to ease its way into the sky.
A little later, a helicopter belonging to the Spanish National Police began circling over us, spotlights on, for about an hour. No press helicopters, because Madrid had sealed off Catalan airspace for the weekend to avoid journalists taking pictures of the huge crowds waiting patiently at polling stations all over the country. 9am rolled around but the doors were still shut, because the Spanish authorities had blocked the servers to prevent voting. The school's IT expert arrived, and fixed the problem, at least for the time being. The elderly were given priority, and soon a corridor in the crowd was made so that a thin line of men and women in wheelchairs or leaning on walking sticks or their grandchildren, could wend their way into the school. A little later, the first of them emerged to universal applause. One (very) elderly man in a wheelchair raised his fist and yelled 'Long Live Free Catalonia!'. These were, after all, people who had lived through the worst years of the Franco dictatorship, when simply saying something in Catalan within hearing of the wrong policemen could get you beaten up or thrown into jail (later, on Twitter, someone told how his grandmother had been beaten by police for saying, in a baker's, in Catalan, 'Who's last in the queue?').
Anyhow, to cut a long story short, there was a lot of waiting, hours and hours of it, with the server crashing every thirty minutes until finally the IT guy found a definitive solution, in the early afternoon. By this time we had heard news from the three other polling stations in our neighbourhood. Some people had been over there and then returned with videos of people being beaten, dragged and kicked by heavily armed Spanish National Police, who had broken into the premises by climbing fences or smashing open windows and doors. All in order to get the ballot boxes. A Catalan public TV news app started to broadcast news of the number of people injured around Catalonia in similar operations: by midday there were just over two hundred of them.
I asked a passing camera crew where they were from. France 4. Their camerman had been swiped with a baton when filming at the nearby Ramon Llull polling station. People were now coming in to Fort Pienc from that and other neighbouring polling stations, including a woman whose arm was in a sling and her fingers in splints. I asked her what had happened. Her name is Marta Torrecillas, she's 33 years old and works for the Catalan government as an Adminstration Department Head. She was at the Pau Claris polling station when the police came in. No sooner did they see the accrediation around her neck identifying her as a Catalan government worker, than they ripped the plaque off her, and, laughing, started lifting her skirt and lowering her blouse, before throwing her down a stairway. One policeman then broke three of her fingers, one by one. (He has been identified as agent 4U21, and - it goes without aying - is still at large). She had the stunned, dazzled look of someone who cannot yet fully believe what has happened to them. After having been thus abused and tortured, she had made her way to Fort Pienc, and voted. Indeed, our polling station, thanks to the size of the crowd that never left its side, remained untouched by the Spanish police.
News from other places - where friends and family of the people outside the Fort Pienc polling station had voted, or tried to - started coming in. In Sant Cebrià de Vallalta, a tiny muncipality off the Maresme coast, north-east of Barcelona, people had been dragged down stairways; in another tiny village, Aiguaviva, near Girona, tear gas had been used.
The helicopter came back several times and buzzed above us for a while before heading off again. And then images started flooding in on smartphones from all over Catalonia: people being shot at with rubber bullets (banned in Catalonia) while they tried to help an injured man into an ambulance; a middle-aged woman with her face covered in blood; young women being dragged along the floor by their hair; an injured politician being whacked a second time as friends tried to get him through a police cordon. All in all there was an average of eight injured people for every polling station that was attacked. 700.000 people of a total census of 5,400,000 had been prevented from voting, either because they couldn't make it to an untouched polling station or because the servers were down or because they were being attended to by paramedics.
For the last 40 years I've watched as time after time, Catalans have been treated like foreigners (or worse) in their 'own' state by central government and its affiliated media. A conflict which sooner or later had to have some kind of resolution. For many years, the opreferred option was to turn Catalonia into a federal state, along the lines of the Basque Country. Since the federal option was quashed by Madrid in 2010, independence was all that was left. Little wonder, then, that this year just under 80% of the Catalan population wanted a referendum on whether Ctalonia should become an independent republic, or not. Despite seemingly insuperable obstacles, the Catalan government, backed by a pro-independence parliamentary majority, duly organised one. Apart from at least partially revealing what Catalans wanted, the referendum also showed us what Madrid really thinks of us, when push comes to shove: that from its point of view, the only acceptable option is that we - literally -keep our heads down, shut up and pay our taxes (the highest regional tax rate in Europe). Or we will be terrorised. There is no other Spanish or European region which is in this position (and by the way, you pompous English pontificators - and there are only a few of you, fortunately - who claim that those Catalans who want independence are all either manipulated or money-grabbing, we know exactly who we are and what we think and why).

The latest news, just in today (02/10/2017), is that the thousands of violent men in uniform who showed such loathing towards us yesterday, are being asked by the state to stay on in Catalonia for an indefinite period. And it's not so they can learn the language.

Image from Alhzelia in the wikipedia, CC BY-SA 2.0


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