Is a peaceful vote possible in Catalonia?

Just days before the independence referendum in Catalonia is scheduled to take place it is unclear whether - and how - the vote can go ahead. Police have been instructed to seal off potential polling stations and thousands of additional officers have been deployed to the region. The regional government is sticking to its plans, however. Commentators have differing views on the separatists' struggle for independence, but all of them hope the situation won't end in violence.

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Upsala Nya Tidning (SE) / 28 September 2017

Madrid allowed the situation to escalate

The Spanish government is clearly to blame for the escalation, Upsala Nya Tidning is convinced:

“Could Spain have responded differently? Yes. Just ask the British and Canadian governments. They heeded the calls from Scotland and Quebec and allowed referendums to take place. Silence and police deployments were never an appropriate answer to peaceful expressions of opinion. ... At the very last minute the Spanish government has now held out the possibility of negotiations - which it had strictly rejected since 2010. In any event one thing is sure: if blood is shed on Sunday and the Spanish police takes action against voting Catalonians, the government in Madrid will have a hard time finding any foreign support.”

El Periódico de Catalunya (ES) / 29 September 2017

Please be peaceful

Enric Hernàndez, editor-in-chief of El Periódico de Catalunya, hopes fervently that the October 1 referendum will go off peacefully:

“Among the many virtues of the independence movement is its civil and peaceful nature. Its immaculate record would be sullied by any act of violence. The organisers have warned their supporters against any kind of rioting although no mass movement can be safe from idiots (or infiltrators). The central headquarters of the Catalan regional police believes therefore that its operations against the referendum on October 1, which were ordered by the public prosecutors but then watered down by the court, pose a threat to 'public order'. A violent scenario would also be fatal for the Spanish government: images of police brutality against voters would set off the alarm bells in Europe.”

El País (ES) / 29 September 2017

The majority is condemned to silence

The majority of Catalans are against secession, El País firmly believes, but suspects that this section of society will be gagged:

“People often ask why this silent majority that isn't in favour of independence doesn't speak up. The answer is clear: because of the harassment it has been subjected to by the hegemonic discourse of those who want secession. The separatists have many institutions championing their cause - including universities, public media and social forums - and they use them as instruments of propaganda. These excesses have reached the point where the [public regional broadcaster] Catalunya Ràdio has called on the citizens to denounce the movements of the Guardia Civil's patrols.”

Hospodářské noviny (CZ) / 29 September 2017

Danger of a domino effect

The referendum in Catalonia could trigger a chain reaction, fears Hospodářské noviny:

“The polls say there isn't enough support for independence. But in Europe many were convinced that the British wouldn't leave the EU either. If the Catalans vote for independence the reactions from Madrid, Berlin, Brussels and Paris will set a precedent because the Scots may also decide to make another attempt at independence. And because this would no longer be about the break-up of a single state but the cohesion of the entire union. The Poles and Hungarians could then vote on their EU membership.”

Delfi (LV) / 28 September 2017

New borders on maps are normal

Europe would perhaps be better off taking a more relaxed attitude to the founding of a new state, columnist Otto Ozols writes on web portal Delfi:

“Our world isn't getting any larger but the number of countries is growing. And there is no sign of this trend ending anytime soon. The number of smaller countries will also continue to grow. The world would be mad to close its eyes to this reality. The number of small states is growing at the expense of the large ones. In the democratic parts of the world this trend is easing tensions but also inspiring new creative potential. In the undemocratic parts of this world it is creating areas of conflict. The latter applies mainly for those areas in which colonial bonds promote totalitarianism. Or vice-versa - where totalitarianism leaves colonial bonds intact.”

eldiario.es (ES) / 27 September 2017

This is not how democracy works

The hardened stance on both sides prompts Ignacio Escolar, editor-in-chief of eldiario.es, to urge both Barcelona and Madrid to come to their senses:

“Democracy is about voting, but not just about voting. Democracy also means that the legislators respect the law, the rights of minorities and parliamentary procedures. And for this reason the Catalan parliament cannot abolish the constitution and the Statute of Autonomy in an express vote with a parliamentary majority that wouldn't even suffice to modify the electoral law or appoint the director of the regional state TV broadcaster. ... Democracy also means conducting dialogue, promoting peaceful coexistence and governing for the good of all, not just of those who voted for you. This is why the attitude of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has been so deplorable and irresponsible.”

NRC Handelsblad (NL) / 27 September 2017

Can the king mediate?

NRC Handelsblad fears a further escalation of the conflict and calls on the two sides to negotiate:

“Madrid's harsh stance is unwise. Catalan doubters are being driven into the arms of the separatist movement by Madrid's stubbornness and shows of force. Moreover a dangerous situation threatens to develop in Catalonia in the coming days. The Guardia Civil is not the answer. And the Catalan president Carles Puigdemont must ask himself what he stands to gain from an incomplete referendum. Both parties must return to the negotiating table and their former pragmatism as soon as possible. Perhaps King Felipe's intervention is what is now needed.”

Jutarnji list (HR) / 27 September 2017

Referendum poses a dilemma for EU

The referendum in Catalonia will force the EU to react without being able to satisfy either side, Jutarnji list comments:

“This referendum is unpleasant for Spain and the EU. It's easy for the EU to express its opinion on the founding of new states outside its territory. But when it comes to member states it must support the national governments. ... It would be bad and even dangerous for the EU if a member of the community were to be destabilised. Particularly a member as large as Spain, which after Brexit will become one of the Big Four.”

Krónika (RO) / 24 September 2017

Madrid alienating even moderate Catalonians

With its hysterical response the central government in Madrid will achieve the opposite of what it is aiming for, writes Krónika, the paper of the Hungarian minority in Romania:

“You don't need to be able to tell the future to know that Madrid's dictatorial approach and the huge amount of pressure it is putting on the members of the Catalonian government as well as several hundred mayors will prove extremely counterproductive. Because it will fan resentment even among those Catalonians who don't support Catalan independence. As a reminder: London didn't put any obstacles in the Scots' way when they held their independence referendum. And Scotland rewarded this level-headed approach.”

Le Soir (BE) / 25 September 2017

To win isn't to convince

Madrid should take the wind out of the separatists' sails with sensible reforms, economist Christian Hoarau writes in Le Soir:

“Even if the state manages to prevent the referendum from being held, it would be in the interest of the central government (and the political parties) to resolve the Catalonian question. Because winning doesn't mean you have won the support of the Catalonians. ... The state could start right away by rethinking Catalonia's financing and bringing it into line with that of the Basque Country, providing sufficient funding for its economic development, and restoring the autonomy status of 2006. In that way the radical position of the separatists would become untenable, and moderate souverainism could regain the upper hand.”

Ara (ES) / 22 September 2017

Humiliation will have consequences

Several units of the Spanish police and the Civil Guard have recently been transferred from Madrid to Catalonia. The central government is quietly undermining Catalonia's autonomy with repressive measures, writes Esther Vera, editor-in-chief of the Catalan daily Ara:

“The strategy of the state consists in dismantling the region's self-government without applying Article 155 of the constitution [repealing Catalonia's autonomy] so as not to harm its international image. The financial autonomy has already been taken away and now preparations are underway to take control of the regional police. ... The Spanish government is making it clear that it intends to win this match 10-0. The central government has power on its side but it shouldn't forget how strong the reaction to such humiliation can be.”

De Morgen (BE) / 22 September 2017

Not far-right separatists

Cilia Willem, a media lecturer in the Catalonian city of Tarragona, explains the differences between the independence movements in Catalonia and Flanders in De Morgen:

“As a Flemish citizen in Catalonia I was always worried that Catalonia's struggle for independence would set a precedent in the Belgian press and other European media for similar - far right - movements with the same goal. They see secession as reactionary rather than progressive. But in Catalonia the opposite is the case: although certain centre-right parties have joined the independence movement in recent years the Catalan movement is for the most part progressive and inclusive. ... In Flanders (far) right parties have taken control of the struggle for independence, with the result that left-oriented and progressive people avoid it.”

El País (ES) / 21 September 2017

When votes become a crime

Elections can be an immoral act, legal expert Ignacio Arroyo Martínez explains in El País:

“To claim that voting is democratic without giving any further explanation is pointless. Voting can be democratic or undemocratic. It all depends on the circumstances. This is the crux of the problem. What is voted on, who votes and how the vote takes place are all key elements for determining whether or not the vote is the culmination of a democratic process. ... To cite a concrete example, should a democratic society vote on whether to get rid of all old people? Mafia groups that want to exact revenge put their killings to vote. Such perverse examples demonstrate that votes can be the opposite of what we understand by democracy.”

Irish Examiner (IE) / 21 September 2017

EU must bring Rajoy to his senses

With his reaction to the struggle for independence Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is jeopardising democracy in his country, the Irish Examiner warns:

“This heavy-handed approach by Spain's central government contrasts with the vote for Scottish independence from the UK in 2014 and shows how fragile democracy can be, even within the EU. Spanish democracy was barely five years old in 1981 when members of the military stormed parliament. EU institutions and governments must remind the Spanish authorities that the essence of democracy is dissent and that a return to authoritarianism is not an option.”

Der Standard (AT) / 21 September 2017

Rajoy imposing a state of emergency

The central government's actions against the separatists in Catalonia hark back to the dictatorship of General Franco, Der Standard finds:

“What is going on in Catalonia deserves one name only: a gradual state of emergency. Regardless of what one might think about the independence movement, what is happening now has nothing to do with the defence of the constitution and its democratic freedoms proclaimed by Spain's conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. The policy Rajoy and his People's Party (PP) are using has more in common with the kind of concept of Spain that existed during General Franco's dictatorship. The fact that the Socialists are backing him on this is dreadfully sad.”

El Mundo (ES) / 21 September 2017

Central government must protect democracy

The Spanish Civil Guard is actually preventing a situation like that under the Franco dictatorship, El Mundo counters:

“Spanish democracy is experiencing its most critical moment since [its reintroduction in] 1978. The state's reaction is tough but justified considering the grave attack on the rule of law launched by the Catalan regional government. ... The three state powers must take action against the enemies of representative democracy and the constitution, who evoke alternative, populist ideas of legitimacy that hark back to dark times. Consequently, the operation aimed at dismantling the illegal referendum represents a turning point that every democrat will contemplate with relief and new hope.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) / 20 September 2017

Stop the separatists from carrying out a coup

Gazeta Wyborcza also sees the Spanish state's hard line against the Catalonian separatists as justified:

“The constitution defines Spain as a nation and an indivisible state of citizens with equal rights. It also says that any referendum that decides on the rights and obligations of its citizens must be held in Spain as a whole. No region can legally declare that the constitution no longer applies for it. ... The democratic constitution is the roadmap and the handbook for the coexistence of all citizens. To change it, you must stick to the jointly established rules. Demanding special rights without a legal basis is tantamount to a coup d'état. ... It means the destruction of the democratic rule of law. Democratic Spain cannot allow this.”

Hospodářské noviny (CZ) / 21 September 2017

South Tyrol could serve as a model

Compromises on both sides are needed to restore unity, Hospodářské noviny admonishes:

“The terrorist attack in Barcelona in August brought the Catalonian politicians and the Spanish government together for a moment. Prime Minister Rajoy and the head of the Catalan government Puigdemont stood side by side and appealed for unity. As we see now, scepticism was warranted after all. ... One solution could be the model used in South Tyrol, the German-speaking province that wanted to separate from Italy in the 1950s and 60s but then made do with a generous dose of autonomy. That's too little for the Catalans and too much for Spain. But there is no third alternative.”

La Stampa (IT) / 21 September 2017

Fear turning into revolt

Love of Europe has faded to be replaced by separatist movements like that in Catalonia, La Stampa writes:

“After Marine Le Pen's clear defeat in the French presidential elections the guardians of Europe believed the danger had been conquered for good. But yesterday they were in for a rude awakening. ... Regardless of the outcome of the Catalonian conflict with its historical and democratic roots it has clearly been caused by the widespread sense of fear that has taken hold in the West. This fear is increasingly finding expression in revolts, isolation, a search for identity, distrust and suspicion vis-à-vis central governments. It is the demand for a new sovereignty, because the impalpable European soul has lost sight of itself amid the crisis and the lack of any sign of community action.”

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