A wave of unrest has swept through Catalonia following the harsh sentencing of pro-independence leaders by the Spanish Supreme Court.
Twelve politicians and civil society leaders were found guilty of crime including sedition, misuse of public funds and disobedience following their involvement in the 2017 referendum on and subsequent declaration of Catalan independence from Spain.
That referendum had been declared illegal. The Spanish constitution contains undemocratic vetoes on any region declaring independence without the consent of Spain as a whole. Defendants were sentenced to hefty fines, bans from holding office and lengthy prison sentences, including 13 years for the former Vice-President of Catalonia, Oriol Junqueras.
The sentencing sparked new life into an independence movement that had begun to deflate in the last year. Shortly after the sentences were announced, direct actions took place to disrupt transport and infrastructure in Barcelona and other Catalan towns.
Thousands of protesters descended on Barcelona-El Prat airport, only being dispersed by violent police intervention.
Roads were blocked, railways sabotaged, workers went on strike and substantial fighting took place as demonstrators clashed with police, not just in Barcelona but in Girona and Tarragona.
An enormous demonstration took place in Barcelona on Friday 18 October, after pro-independence marchers from surrounding towns filed into the capital on foot.
Although the constitutional crisis has been ticking along for years, the level of violence and confrontation with the police is something new.
Catalonia has a fiery history of working-class rebellion, but the nationalist movement, traditionally dominated by a Catalan bourgeoisie which likes to project itself as a modern, business-like alternative to a dysfunctional Spanish state, has until now prided itself on peaceful protest and decorum. The new explosion of anger reflects the way in which the Spanish state has frustrated what many Catalans view as a legitimate attempt to decide their own future.
Anger at the conduct of the Spanish government far exceeds support for separation.
Despite there being no majority in Catalonia for independence, 60% believe the nationalist leaders should have been pardoned. Comparable majorities are angry with the way in which the police shut down the referendum in 2017.
Rioting is new, but so too is the growing division between the pro-independence demonstrators and the leaders of the Catalan government. Demonstrations took place outside the regional government’s Ministry of Home Affairs, protesting against the actions of Interior Minister Miquel Bluch, who authorised aggressive action by the local police force against demonstrators, even while officially encouraging the protests.
Similar anger has been directed at Catalan president Quim Torra, who simultaneously seeks to use street protests as a pawn to pressure the Spanish government, while also repressing them in the name of order.
The hypocrisy and double-dealing of the regional government should come as no surprise. The Catalan-nationalist coalition government is led by the centre-right PdeCAT, the successor party to the CDC, the long-term governing party that opportunistically swung in favour of independence as a means of deflecting anger about austerity and capitalist crisis.
Solidarity does not think that separatism is the answer for workers in Catalonia or the rest of Spain. We are against new borders except where necessary to give an oppressed nation space to breathe, and we believe that working-class unity across regional and national borders is the best way to force the bosses into conceding to workers’ interests. But in order to achieve that working-class unity, it is necessary that national questions are dealt with democratically and without coercion.
We are against Catalan separation (as are a majority of Catalans), but we condemn the Spanish state for jailing people for organising a referendum.
We condemn, too, the actions of courts and police to squash the nationalist movement by force.