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Heading for a new Northern Ireland?

The battle for Catalonia could be the start of an insoluble conflict. 

This article is machine translated by Google from Norwegian

Catalonia-phobia is a phobia that most Europeans are hardly aware of, but in Spain the phenomenon is touch and feel. 

The struggle against Catalans and Basques has been going on for over 250 years, with the goal of constantly uniting Spain around the country's dominant nation: Castilla. Some claim that the Spanish Civil War was the last armed attempt to preserve a multinational Spain, but this is a simplification of reality.

The repression of Catalans did not end when Franco's dictatorship ceased, but continued after the transition to democracy. Although the ban on using the Catalan language ceased in 1979, it has since come across 200 new laws, royal resolutions and court orders that prohibit the use of the Castilian language in Catalonia. Also in it 21. For a number of centuries, a number of convictions have tried to cripple the use of Catalan in schools, courts and public agencies – Castilian is to be the official language of the region. 

In 2010 and 2012, it peaked with the Spanish Constitutional Court depriving Catalonia as a nation, and decided that Catalan is no longer Catalonia's official language.

It is therefore no surprise that a majority of Catalans want independence and fight for this with countless demonstrations, in what has been called the "Smile Revolution". 

This indomitable, non-violent grassroots movement has been going on for 9 years and has motivated an overwhelming majority of Catalans (80 percent) to support a referendum on the region's independence. The Spanish government's answer has always been the same: No. 

New enemy of the people

Resistance to the Catalans' independence struggle got wind of the sails after a 30-year-long break in this battle. This must be seen in the context of the Basque liberation struggle. Until the Basque separatist organization ETA finally declared a ceasefire in 2011, the right-wing party used ETA as Spain's main enemy to unite the population. When the pressure from ETA ceased, the right-hand side sought a new enemy of the people to direct their minds, and in this way they were fighting for a united Spain.  

The situation in Catalonia is reminiscent of Northern Ireland, where the right side demands that the Catalans' demands be met with convictions, imprisonment and – if necessary – military intervention.

The fight against Catalans and Basques has been going on for over 250 years, with the goal of uniting Spain around the country's dominant nation, Castile. 

Former Prime Minister José María Aznar stepped in to apply the zero-tolerance policy applied in the Basque Country to Catalonia. This should not only apply in the face of the separatists, but with everyone who wants a referendum.

According to Aznar's right-wing think tank (FAES), it is only a trifle that a large majority of Catalans want such a choice, but also that violence has been completely absent from Catalan separatists. 

Secrecy and mass surveillance

In the shadow of this threat – and after a ten-year conflict and a non-binding vote in 2014 – the Catalan government (Generalitat de Catalunya) still has the strength to call for a referendum on October 1, 2017. But the government in Madrid breaks its side Spanish law and overrides the Catalan police. They are sending a 10-strong police force to Barcelona. This disturbing entry, which arrived in the region a few weeks before the vote, must be called a pure invasion. In the midst of this very tense situation, with weekly demonstrations, saber-rattling and threats of mass imprisonment, the Generalitat forms an election committee for the referendum on independence.

The election committee and regional president Carles Puigdemont's cabinet realizes that secret strategies must be implemented for the referendum to be carried out and facilitates 2315 polling stations in public school buildings. Thus begins a large-scale cat-and-mouse game in which the election committee and 55 volunteers organize a secret transport of 000 ballot boxes and 18 million ballot papers in various locations in Catalonia. At the same time, they have to evade the police's many checks, and coordinate another 000 people to sleep in the schools that are kept open. It can all be called a magnificent demonstration of peaceful civil disobedience, carried out with precision, resilience and naivety. 

Families with children and the elderly are housed in the various schools to spend the night before Election Day, unaware of the tomorrow that awaits them.    

Photo: Truls Lie

Before October 1, the Spanish police raided Guardia Civil's cars, apartments and offices, and began an illegal mass surveillance to stop a movement with too much support to threaten with sheer force. Spain's Attorney General targets 712 Catalonia's mayors because of their support for the referendum. Thus, sacred, indivisible Spain has politicized the justice system and in this way loses all democratic credibility. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy orders cyber attacks on 140 Catalan domains that support the poll, but hundreds of hackers around the world are keeping them going. 

The conflict is now in full daylight, and with this we arrive at what we all thought was unthinkable: Spanish police rebel forces storm 92 schools and strike children, women and seniors in an action that led to 1066 injuries – of which one man lost the eye after being shot with a rubber cartridge. 

Twenty-three people over the age of 23, and 79 minors, including two children under 22, also ended up in hospitals.

In addition to the use of rubber cartridges (which are banned in Catalonia), the large police forces and their hostile appearance shock the encounter with the separatists. But this should come as no surprise after public Spanish government has repeatedly spread theories about a "Catalan power" and at the same time come up with ideas about the "Catalan race". It is this hatred that has stirred up the Spanish police forces that – in the pretext of confiscating voters – beat and kick anyone in the way. 

The police action appears to be one of the worst examples of state-sponsored violence in recent times.

From the Generalitat to the defense committees

After a yes victory with 2 votes (044 percent), but with a low turnout (038 percent) and 90 confiscated and unspoken votes, the Spanish Supreme Court fines the members of the nomination committee and declares the referendum invalid. The committee – the only publicly visible part of the 43 volunteer separatists – is dissolved. The majority of this volunteer force has now formed the new Defense Committees of the Catalan Republic (Comités de Defensa de la República, CDR). The time after the referendum characterizes a crossroads in Catalonia: The smile of the revolution was knocked out a few teeth, but the 770 volunteers are joined by a few hundred thousand more. In regions, cities and neighborhoods, more than 000 defense committees are formed spontaneously. In the weeks that followed, Carles Puigdemont and several members of his government were forced into exile, and nine affiliated politicians were taken into custody pending trial. It has now been over six months and they are still waiting.

With a strategy of direct action and modern opposition, the defense committees hold weekly meetings where they discuss what they can do to defend the results of the referendum and realize the Catalan Republic. The movement is decentralized, without any visible leaders, and the meetings are often held under cover names – without telephones and based on trust. It is rolled on who is in leadership. If any of the members are identified on the internet, they withdraw immediately. How many are on these defense committees? 150 000? 200? It is impossible to say, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to estimate as Spanish courts have begun to pursue individuals with allegations of terrorism, which means that  the movement is kept secret. The actions of the defense committees are well-coordinated and have consisted of everything from road and train blocking, distribution of yellow crosses and loops, organizing demonstrations that require a general strike to the freedom of Catalan political prisoners. Actions that always go peacefully.

A toothless smile?

The defense committees are undeniably anarchic organizations where the foundations are meetings and modern resistance tactics. The aim is to defend the will of the majority and to fight against the normalization of the cultural, economic, legal and political repression of Catalonia. They also want to counter the huge gap between Catalan citizens and the Spanish political class – while defending a minority. Yet, they try to avoid the use of anarchist rhetoric that is so easily demonized in the media. 

This is perhaps the movement's most successful victory so far, namely that they succeed in igniting a spark on a pacifist basis and in this way they are wholeheartedly supported by a majority of Catalans.

The police action appears to be one of the worst examples of state-sponsored violence in recent times.

But this pacifist branch is becoming a weak link in the face of civilian right-wing groups inside the Spanish police and military who – armed with batons and knives – have already campaigned against the defense committees in at least 1700 violent attacks, according to police reports. These have not been counter-attacked. 

But the potential provocation of a violent counterattack is dangerously close. Some no longer see the light at the end of the tunnel. Instead, they are witnessing a fully authoritarian policy; an insoluble conflict; a Catalan Northern Ireland; the rise of a violent Catalan group that calls for more aggressive action and a strong leader. For many in Europe, the trapped situation has gone from a disgraceful situation to a conflict that requires an immediate solution. 

According to the Word Values ​​Survey 2010–2014, 39,5 percent of Spaniards would not object to the country being governed by a more authoritarian regime.

But for a large number of Catalans, the liberation process is in full swing and the independent republic is near. 

The smile may have lost a few teeth, but Catalonia's will seems unbreakable – even when the risk of imprisonment and violent attacks is dangerously present. 

Jové is an activist and cultural entrepreneur, living in Barcelona.

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