Catalan is a wealthy region in North East Spain. It recently had a ‘referendum’ so that people could vote on whether they want to continue to be part of Spain or set up their own nation set apart from Spanish control. They have a very strong culture including their own language.
The Spanish government called this referendum illegal and ‘a mockery of democracy’ (BBC), because they had not agreed to it and do not want Catalan to separate.
Following this, police were brought in to try and stop the referendum happening, which led to 900 people being injured. Police reportedly used unnecessary force.
Protesters think this is a gross violation of freedom of speech. Whether it was legal, the people only wanted to file a piece of paper… so the police response has shocked the world.
Currently, thousands of people are protesting in Barcelona and throughout Catalonia, against both the refusal of Spanish government to legalize their referendum, but more importantly to condemn the response of the police.
Why did it happen?
Part of the reason people want independence comes down to history. Spain had a dictator called Franco who oppressed and murdered many people. He strongly believed in centralism (one big state) so people now wanting to separate from Spain could be a part of a reaction to this, particularly older people who remember having family members killed.
The issue of independence is highly political in Spain and is very decisive. Barcelona and Real Madrid football matches have become more and more political, with people associating the games directly with the struggle between Catalonia and the Spanish State.
How is the British media responding?
In terms of social media, it hasn’t been too hot on UK trends. This could be partly due to other horrific acts of violence happening at the same time. Such as the mass shooting in Las Vegas where 59 people were killed and hundreds injured by a lone shooter. Of course, if he was brown there would be an uproar from Trump and his men, but he was white so it was a ‘tragedy’ and not an act of ‘terrorism’ from an American news perspective.
The BBC provides more detailed information about the reasons behind the protests, highlighting the 900 people injured by police, including women being dragged out of polling stations by their hair and rubber bullets being used to prevent people voting.
How is the Spanish media responding?
The Spanish news is less prepared to mention the reasons behind the protests, or to engage about the issue of police brutality.
People are reported by RTVE to be shouting ‘este edificio será una biblioteca’ (this building will be a library) outside government buildings in the area, highlighting the passion and intensity of the protesters, and the fact they consider government intervention ‘Spanish interference,’ and see themselves (Catalonia) as a different place.
Highlighting this chant could lead readers to empathize more with the police, as the passion and intensity behind these words suggests that the protesters were a bit of a mob, rather than normal people expressing their desires through an unapproved vote.
As of yet, an apology for the violence being carried out by the police has not been issued by the Spanish government. According to RTVE , the huge protests now being experienced in Barcelona are linked to ‘the way the police acted’ but the mainstream news company does not highlight the number of people injured, or condemn police or government actions in any way.
90% of people who voted in Catalonia wanted independence, but turn out was only 40% because so many polling stations were shut down and roads were closed by the police so it’s hard to say how much this reflects the will of the people.
Protesters continue to occupy the streets in thousands but the Spanish president comes across as uncompromising – blaming the Catalonia decision to hold a ‘false referendum’ rather than police response as the reason for violence.