Around 450,000 took to the streets of Barcelona on 22 October to protest against Madrid’s threat to impose direct rule and the arrests of activists.
The CUP — the left-separatist party that props up Puigdemont’s coalition of right-wing and left-wing nationalists — has called for a mass mobilisation and resistance to prevent direct rule from going ahead. Catalan civil servants are likely to refuse to administer Madrid rule, and the Madrid government has threatened to remove from post all employees who fail to follow the instructions of a directly-administered regime. A potentially explosive question mark hangs over the role of the Mossos D’Esquadra, the autonomous Catalan armed police force that is loyal to the regional government.
The Mossos refused to cooperate to prevent the 1 October referendum, and police chief Josep Lluis Trapero faces charges of sedition for failing to follow orders. The Spanish government say during direct rule, the Mossos will come under the command of the Ministry of the Interior. The Catalan police are unlikely to cooperate, especially in a context of large-scale civil disobedience.
Spain has attempted to bolster its position by bringing in tens of thousands of state police and even army units from outside the region. Solidarity has previously argued against Catalan separatism, which would add new borders and further divisions within the working class. We have also condemned Spanish repression of the Catalans’ democratic rights. As Rajoy moves to deprive Catalonia of its autonomy, the necessity of opposing that repression becomes all the more important.
We oppose a new border between the region and the rest of Spain, but the decision about statehood must be taken by the Catalan people themselves. That means the release of political prisoners, the withdrawal of the forces of repression and the restoration of democratic rights.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has invoked Article 155 of Spain’s constitution and his government plans to strip Catalonia of its autonomy and impose rule from Madrid. Article 155 was written into the constitution during the many compromises of the post-Franco transition to democracy, but has never been used before. If, as is likely, the Senate approves the move on Friday 27 October, the regional government of Catalonia will be stripped of its powers, and direct rule will be imposed.
Rajoy’s move comes in response to the referendum on independence held in Catalonia on 1 October, and the Catalan president Carles Puigdemont’s ambiguous “suspended” declaration of independence that followed. The referendum, which was declared unconstitutional by the Spanish courts, was violently disrupted by Spanish police, and a number of government officials and activists, have since been arrested on charges of sedition. The referendum returned a 90% “yes” vote, but independence significantly did not gain the backing of a majority of eligible voters, millions of whom abstained.
Rajoy is also planning on forcing fresh regional elections on Catalonia, hoping that a possible latent majority against independence might remove Puigdemont’s “Together for Yes” coalition from power in the region. On Thursday 26th, the Catalan parliament will meet to discuss their response to the following day’s imposition of direct rule. The leaders of the EU have backed Rajoy following a meeting of the Council of Europe on Friday 20 October.
The social democrats of the PSOE are supporting Rajoy over article 155, claiming that in doing so they are defending the constitution and the rule of law. As a muted afterthought, PSOE leader Pedro Sánchez added that the party hoped the period of direct rule would be “limited” and “brief”. On the left, Podemos does not favour Catalan separatism but is strongly opposing the actions of the Spanish government. Pablo Echenique called it a “terrible day for democracy” that Catalonia would now be administered by the right-wing Partido Popular, who only receive 8.5% of the vote in the region.