A day that will last for years to come; independence is in the streets already

  • A report on the revolt against Spain’s bid to stage a coup, raiding Catalan ministry HQs and arresting senior government officials

Pere Cardús
21.09.2017 - 07:51

The alarm bells went off early in the morning, when nearly everyone was on their way to work, school or the day’s meetings. They had entered the Finance Ministry. They had arrested a number of senior government officials. The information available was confusing, but you could tell they meant business. Slowly, details trickled in. They had searched the offices of the Treasury’s Deputy Minister, Lluís Salvadó, and the Deputy Finance Minister, Pere Aragonès. The name of Josep Maria Jové, Vice President Junqueras’ right-hand man, came up as one of the people supposedly under arrest. Pro-independence grassroots groups called on Catalans to take to the streets. Quite a crowd gathered outside the ministry’s offices, on Barcelona’s Rambla de Catalunya.

Searches and arrests early in the morning

Fresh information circulated: they had also raided the offices of the CTTI (the government’s IT centre), the Foreign Affairs Ministry, T-Systems (a private company) and so forth. President Puigdemont held an urgent cabinet meeting in Palau de la Generalitat. Some demonstrators cut off Via Laietana. Following a call by Jordi Sànchez, the leader of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), others followed suit on Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes. The Speaker of the House, Carme Forcadell, was waiting in parliament to take any important decisions, if at all necessary. It was important to keep a cool head in the face of such an onslaught. Online and among those demonstrating in the streets, a phrase was coined: a coup against democracy and the Generalitat.

“No passaran!”

Calls to rally were successful and the Rambla de Catalunya junction with Gran Via filled with a crowd that was not willing to abide by the coup. Thousands of citizens waving “estelades” and holding all sorts of posters and banners demanding democracy … it is packed to the brim. The atmosphere is electric. Protestors are rallying emphatically, led by leaders of culture, politics and thought. One of the most popular chants is “No passaran!” [coined by the republican side during the 1936-39 war]. They say that Jové and two other people from the Finance Ministry, who have also been arrested, are not in the building; apparently they have been apprehended elsewhere and they want to bring them to their offices for a search. That is what the judge that authorised the coup has ordered.

“Where’s Europe?”

On that information, the crowd has made up its mind: “We won’t let them through and they won’t be able to leave”. Every now and then, the Ministry’s front door opens to let an employee in or out. Deafening shouts fill the air and it is almost impossible to breathe. The noise is ear-splitting. Not even twenty seconds go by before someone starts singing, shouts out a slogan or some song roars in our ears. “Where is Coscubiela?” [a unionist MP] proves particularly popular. Albano-Dante Fachin [Coscubiela’s in-party rival], who got here early on, does not even bother to conceal his laughter. MEP Ramon Tremosa joins the crowd shouting “Where’s Europe?”. They also sing L’Estaca, by Lluís Llach, and some oldies by Companyia Elèctrica Dharma.

Spanish police don’t look amused

Demonstrators don’t take a moment’s break. They are willing to make a stand because their resolve is complete: “enough is enough, we won’t accept any more attacks”. Catalan police form a line in front of the Spanish gendarmes guarding the front door. The message is clear: it is the Mossos who protect government buildings and are in charge of security in the streets of Catalonia. White and red carnations are tossed over the line of Mossos and land on the berets of the Guardia Civil officers, clad in their green uniforms. The raiders of our institutions do not look amused. A handful of men trained to hunt down dangerous felons and jihadists are standing guard in front of people who offer them flowers, smile at them and sing them songs. But they must take it with a straight face. They are making fools of themselves in the name of a country that will stop at nothing.

The revolution is broad-based

Some barristers from the bar association turn up in their gowns to support the ministry’s employees. Today a coup is underway. A foreign government is attempting to replace the rightful government elected by the Catalan people. They wish to take over our institutions and suspend our self-rule, without the parliament’s intervention. By using police force. Lawyers, politicians, artists, intellectuals, teachers, students and other people are standing up to the aggression today. As with any other revolution before.

“We will vote, we will vote!”

Resolve, civility, character and hope: the crowd chants “We will vote, we will vote!”. And “Ballot boxes are our weapons”, while an oversize ballot box is passed around above the people’s heads, bearing a phrase written in English: “Spain, this is your problem”. There is no going back. Madrid has spat on democracy and Catalonia’s institutions. And this is the last straw. Those who have gathered to defend our institutions and democracy are fully committed. They aren’t going away. It’ll be a long day. Decisions will need to be made. Good information is key.

“The government won’t back down”

While Rambla de Catalunya is becoming ever more packed, President Puigdemont addresses media with an official statement on behalf of his government: “A firm but calm attitude will be required from today until October 1, the day of the referendum. On October 1 we will leave home, carrying a ballot paper and we will use it. And this must contrast with Madrid’s authoritarianism”. In the streets, Puigdemont’s words can barely be heard. Overloaded phone networks make communication difficult. But anyone with a radio shares the news and people clap.

“We condemn the totalitarian attitude of the Spanish State. We support, personally and politically, all the government officials who are under arrest and stand by them. We denounce the illegitimate takeover of the Catalan government. We reiterate our peaceful, democratic response to the threats. We believe that the Spanish government has crossed a red line”, says the President, and he goes on: “We do not accept going back to past eras, and cannot accept that they won’t allow us to decide about a future era of freedom and democracy”. Finally, he stresses that “this government will not back down”. The President’s determination is met with a show of confidence, even by those who have been most lukewarm about the alliance with the PDECat. For instance, activist Pau Llonch praised the President’s message on Twitter.

A new warning at the CUP’s HQ

Today we learnt that the Spanish police meant to raid the CUP’s HQ, too. Some officers wearing balaclavas surrounded the largest venue run by the radical pro-independence left on Carrer Casp. A call is made to defend the venue being threatened. It spreads like wildfire and, shortly afterwards, thousands have gathered in a show of peaceful resistance.

Spreading protests

In the meantime, college students across Catalonia have cancelled their lessons to protest over the violation of the Catalan people’s rights and liberties. All over Catalonia, people are getting organised to travel to Barcelona city and defend our institutions. The main grassroots groups set up rallies for the evening. With every minute, more people are taking to the streets in Barcelona. There are marches in the main towns and villages of the Catalan Countries and abroad, too. Even Madrid will be holding a protest in Puerta del Sol

To the detainees: “You are not alone”

About fifteen people have been arrested. Most of them are senior government officials. In their capacity, they might have aided in holding the referendum. On the street, people’s shouts in their support bounce off the façade of the building. The crowd cries out: “You are not alone”, as they remain determined and joyful. There are rumours of further arrests that turn out to be unfounded. Some newspapers jump at the chance of getting a few extra clicks, but eventually have to rectify. There are further rumours about statements from European leaders. But it is late in the afternoon and nobody in Europe has uttered a word yet. For now, only MEPS across the political spectrum and some foreign political parties have protested. Concern over the Spanish government’s heavy-handed approach is growing all over Europe.

“A de facto state of exception”

At 4 pm Carme Forcadell turns up to read a statement before the media. The Speaker of the House insists on the people’s peaceful, democratic response: “We will stand together in the face of these attacks, we will defend our institutions and stay united. The best solution is to fill the ballot boxes on October 1.” Forcadell firmly denounces the events of the last few days: “A de facto state of exception has been declared”.

Only the people can save the people

The largest crowd is still gathered outside the Finance Ministry. The minister and Vice President Oriol Junqueras makes an appearance. He is emotional, but determined to used the support lent by the majority of the Catalan people. He speaks to the crowd at the top of his voice: “Our institutions watch over the rights of our citizens. Make no mistake: only the people can save the people. And the future of this nation is in the hands of all of us. We will stay together to ensure that freedom, truth and democracy prevail”.

More support, more voices against authoritarianism

Protests can be heard across the Catalan nation. In the Valencian Country and the Balearic Islands, rallies are growing in size. All fourteen bar associations release a forceful statement against the violation of basic civil rights and liberties. Barcelona FC sides with the institutions and the people who wish to exercise their right to self-determination. Prominent thinkers in Europe lend their support.

In the evening, the Revolution of Smiles

At 8 pm, the crowd gathered all day at the Rambla de Catalunya junction with Gran Via has grown even larger. As if it were Catalonia’s National Holiday again, the crowd stretches from Plaça de Catalunya to carrer de la Diputació, and from carrer Balmes to Diagonal. Catalans have travelled to Barcelona from all four corners and have taken over the city centre. The Revolution of smiles has exploded in all its splendour.

These have been days of struggle, solidarity, joy and songs. But, above all, a profound conviction has emerged today: the conviction that leads to victory. Today is the day. Today might be the day.


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