The Catalan Diaries
A Sputnik correspondent was on the ground in Catalonia to capture the dramatic events and emotions of the October 1 referendum.
© Photo: Reuters, Susana Vera
Saturday, September 30
Occupying the schools

Huge numbers of Catalan citizens have been occupying schools and council buildings since yesterday. Men, women, children, young and old – they all sleep in sleeping bags on gymnasium mats to ensure that the buildings will be kept open for the vote, which will commence at 9:00am tomorrow. The afternoons are filled with live music and games for the children, in the evenings, the hordes of occupiers eat takeaway pizza in the school canteens, and at night they sleep side by side. At 5:00am, everybody within the school must rise from their sleeping bags to stand outside the gates, welcoming the sun, and later, welcoming the police who will arrive to shut down the schools at 6:00am.

The polling places will remain neutral. Although Barcelona itself is plastered with graffiti and posters encouraging a 'Sí' vote, the schools will refrain from publicizing their position in the referendum. The demonstrations so far are overwhelmingly peaceful, with police being met with flowers. There has been one instance of violence in a school occupied in Manlleu, where 4 people were shot by a bb gun. The shots pierced the flesh and are being investigated.

One group of young activists have removed the school's main gate from its hinges and hidden it where the police will not find it. This will prevent the police from barricading the gate.

A list of numbers is being shared on social media. This is to alert the Catalan public who to call in case of arrest, or in case of police violence.
Emergency telephone numbers © Photo: Sputnik
Sunday, October 1
Election Day

For many voters here in Catalonia, the day began at 5:00am, with crowds of people gathering outside polling stations in school and council buildings, so as to prevent the institutions from being closed down by police. Many of these people, children and adults, had spent the night camping in the school, playing games, and watching films. Their intention; come morning, is to make their voices heard in the vote.

In order to make the vote happen, more than 10,000 ballot papers have been handed out by volunteers, over 300 schools have been occupied, the fire brigade are cordoning off polling stations, (and engaging in standoffs with police), hordes of tractors have driven in from the countryside, positioning themselves outside schools and council buildings to protect those inside. Voters are wearing white as a symbol of their attitude – peace and serenity.

At 8:00am, the ballot boxes arrived, carried in haste by young, casually dressed Catalonians. They were met by a hushed cheer, as the crowd tried to keep the protest peaceful and silent. There are no Catalan flags present in the polling stations, no Spanish flags, just white t-shirts and umbrellas, to shelter from the rain.
© Photo: Sputnik
At 9:00am, the crowd waiting outside l'escola Industrial expected to be let into the polling station. It was not until 10 am that the first person was let in to vote. Many of the people administrating the vote and organizing the ballot boxes have been detained, or were put off by the threat of fines up to 400,000 euros. New citizens had to be recruited from the crowds, and quickly briefed about the voting process. The police entered the telecommunications center in the early hours, disrupting the internet and phone lines. Madrid has ordered the police to prevent the unconstitutional vote, which was adjusted in 1978, throughout the remnants of Franco's regime.

For Catalonia, today is not about changing the constitution, nor is it about independence. The people who have been standing in the rain since 5:00am are concerned with exercising their democratic right, whatever the outcome. Some elderly women were the first to vote in l'Escuela Industrial, for them this marks the third time they have voted for independence in their lifetime.
© Photo: Sputnik
Videos and memes have been flooding the web in the run-up to the vote, depicting various strategies to use whilst approaching the ballot box; the joke video depicts a line of citizens hiding from the gaze of a bucking bull on hands and knees, crawling towards a ballot box when the bulls back is turned. The reality is somewhat more extreme. The Guardia Civil (national police) have been travelling from institution to institution. Closing down each school, using violence in many cases. Images have flooded out of elderly women, children, with huge gashes and black eyes, being beaten and carried away by the Policia Nacional.
© Photo: Sputnik
In the days prior to the referendum there was a similar wave of repression. Websites and Wi-Fi are being blocked to prevent communications; people are resorting to social media to see where schools have been blockaded, and where violence has been encountered. Spain has closed Barcelona's airspace to helicopters and light planes. Other actions taken to prevent the vote include the seizure of over two-million ballots, the arrest of 14 high ranking Catalan officials, the removal of many pro-independence websites from the Internet, and the deployment of 4,000 Guardia Civil Police. The Guardia Civil were originally going to be accommodated on four cruise ships moored in Barcelona, Taragona and Palamos, however two dockyards announced a boycott, and a third denied them mooring. The dockyards have defended their actions saying it is in the name of civil rights.
Nevertheless, at 9:30am, Carles Puidgemont cast his vote in Girona. He was met with the first police violence of the day. The police focused their initial efforts on polling stations where key players in the election were known to be voting. Some say it was a strategic move, coinciding with an announcement that Catalan citizens will have "freedom to vote in whichever institution they choose." While this was said to facilitate movement in the city, others believe it was made in order to target Catalan MP's who would be voting nearer to their homes.

Jose Luis, from el Clot, says that he is not afraid of the police, but that he will fight to defend his nation. The majority of the Catalan people are protesting peacefully, waving their fingers and putting their hands up as though in surrender when the police arrive.

Ada Colau, Mayor of Barcelona is demanding that the EU needs to act to defend the freedom of speech. UN human rights experts have warned Spanish authorities that their actions appear to violate human rights.
Rajoy has been criticized for his actions, who is said to have relied on the law to guide his actions rather than use his political skill. Many have commented that he is violently wielding the law as a weapon, willfully stifling all dialogue between Spain and Catalonia in the process.

Parallels have been drawn between Rajoy and Franco, whose regime Catalonia had not anticipated to see return. Flags depicting the 'Democracia' slogan of the Omnium Cultural association have been confiscated by police, yet flags depicting Franco's face are ignored.
© Photo: Sputnik
However, there are arguments that Catalonia has not been entirely political in its strategy either. Some 729 Mayors backed the referendum, however the remaining Mayors have been publically named and shamed, their faces printed on posters and strung up around the state. Anti-independence Catalan supporters believe that Carles Puidgemont, and Jordi Ciuxart have been forcing their agenda upon the state and that Rajoy is simply reacting against an illegal referendum.

Many people, who would like Catalonia to remain a part of Spain, will not be voting today, refusing to take part in a referendum which is illegal.

The institutions that have not yet been shut down by police will continue to be occupied until the votes have been counted. Cheers of 'Votarem' echo throughout the city – 'We will Vote'. Those voting today are determined to cast their ballot and avoid violence.

This is no longer a story of independence. This story is about Democracy.
© Photo: Sputnik
Message from The Bureau of Democracy
The Bureau for Democracy strongly condemns the violence exercised by the state security forces to prevent the vote.

The members of the Bureau for Democracy – among them the UGT of Catalonia – strongly condemn the violence exercised by the state security forces to prevent voting in Catalonia.
The police actions to violently evict the thousands of people who have gathered in the Catalan schools and to requisition the material for the vote are absolutely inadmissible and are a violation of civil and political rights and the coexistence of Catalan society.
On behalf of The Bureau for Democracy, we demand that these repressive actions by the state are halted immediately and that the citizens can express their opinion freely during today's referendum, in accordance with democracy.
A message released on October 1 at 9:00am via social media
"Today is not a day to beware etc ...

Today is a holiday, we are going to vote!

Everyone must vote for what they want, but do not stop voting for fear, or for repression!

So today the message is, we wish you the best of happiness and joy! ????????????

Article 7 of the European Union Treaty

"Suspension of any Member State that uses military force on its own population."
People at a polling station in Barcelona // © AFP 2017 Pau Barrena

A Cup of Coffee with a No Voter
On the afternoon of October the 1st, I sought out a Catalan resident that would be crossing the ballot to remain. I found Raul Martinez. It was not easy; I was told that the majority of people voting against independence had left the city, boycotting the vote.

Raul ordered a cafe solo, determined to make the interview as short as possible. This is what he told me:
"My parents are from Spain, I am Catalan. I was born here, and consider myself proud to be Catalan. In the past I have voted for independence, today I will vote to remain. Why? Because I do not agree with the Catalan government's treatment of the process. Firstly, it is illegal. Secondly, their regime is no less Franco than that of Rajoy. I have seen posters depicting the faces of the mayors that stand against the referendum, pasted to the wall, as though to humiliate them. I will tell you what, that is not democracy. This vote is not anything to do with democracy. Here in Spain we have democracy, we also have laws, and they are not there to be broken. If the Catalan people would start a peaceful dialogue, perhaps to change the constitution, I would be happy to support it."
Raul paused, took a sip of coffee, coughed into the back of his hand and looked at me. His eyes are kind and wrinkled, there is nothing villainous about him. Many people filled with patriotism have snorted at my request for a 'no voter'. "They have fled, they are not part of this." It appears that that is not true. I ask Raul:

I have heard that many people that want to remain are boycotting the vote, how come you're still here?
"Well I think that is stupid too. They won't vote because they are afraid. But what that will mean is that the vote will end up overwhelmingly 'Sí'. This is not what we want. It is just a vote. There is nothing scary or wrong about putting a piece of paper into a box. We will vote, it will mean nothing, they will do what they want to do, and the police will hurt people in the process. That is how it will go, it will make no difference whether I vote or not, but because I am Catalan, I am a part of this referendum, this is a part of my timeline and my country's future. From now on, I am sure, everything will change."
Raul scrapes back his chair, smiles a crinkly smile: "Can I go now?"
Catalans vote at a polling station for the banned independence referendum inside the Reina Violant school in Barcelona, Spain // © REUTERS Jon Nazca
A Cup of Tea with a 'Sí' Voter
Mireia Valaquez was happy to come with me for a cup of tea, at eight in the morning on October the 1st. She had been sleeping in the school that her children attended for two nights now, ensuring it would stay open for the vote. She ordered black tea with milk, but scoffed a little, she said it was not usual to drink tea in this way.

How are you feeling about the upcoming vote?
"It's a real challenge, we are really proud of everything that has been happening until now. The Spanish government has been putting up lots of barriers to stop us from voting today, but the harder they try to stop this day, the stronger people have become. I don't know what is going to happen today, but this is already a success. We have the whole city, full of people, all the schools taken by families and kids. We are more than 100 people sleeping in the school where I will vote, all these people just trying to defend it so that our neighborhood can vote."
Mireia looks at me, with tired brown eyes, but she is full of life, animated, she is more than pleased to be here supporting her neighborhood. The school that she has been occupying is away from the center of Barcelona. There is very little press here compared to the institutions in the city center. I ask her what kind of international support she expects to have today?
"It's great to have international press here. We really want the world to know what is going on here. The Spanish government is really trying to limit our information. They have cut our internet, and our rights as well. We want to let you know that we are peaceful, we have human rights observers coming, giving us their numbers, making sure we are ok. This is not an easy situation, it has been very stressful, they have been trying to instill fear in us since this all started."
What made you decide to occupy the school with your family?
Our politicians have been taken, they have threatened us, trying to stop us from demonstrating, but here everybody has been so brave. They have been telling us that we will have to pay fines of 3,000-6,000 euros. It's been a policy of fear. That's why this is a success, they haven't succeeded in putting fear in us. These people are here and able to say what they want, how they want, they just want to be free. This is a democracy, this is what we were looking for.
Mireia wants to stay and talk, but the polling station is due to open at 9:00am, and she must get back to open the gates and help to control the voters. Everybody voting in the school will stick around after they cast their vote, waiting until the evening until all the ballots have been counted. There is a long day ahead for everybody at Escola de Mar Bella, and many are running on very little sleep, and the croissants donated by families. Mireia thanks me, finishes her tea, pushes back her chair, and leaves.
© Photo: Sputnik
The Ugly Face of Democracy
Sunday, October 1, a peaceful protest turned ugly as the Civil Guards and Spain's National Police raid polling stations at the Catalonia Referendum.

Using brute force, batons and rubber bullet guns, the Guardia Civil and Policia Nacional threw people aside in order to seize the ballot boxes in what the Spanish government deemed an illegal vote.

Thousands of schools across Catalonia had been occupied for days in order to ensure that come 9:00am on Sunday, the doors would be opened for ballots to be cast. By the end of the day, over half of these had been shut down. Mariana Lepant, from Poble Nou, stayed three nights at her son's school. She says that what had been called a party, in many places, has turned into chaos.
Clashes between police and voters during the Catalan independence referendum // © AFP 2017 Raymond Roig
The violence occurred in the outskirts of Barcelona in and around neighboring towns, as the Policia Nacional went from school to school, focusing primarily on the centers where prominent Catalan officials were known to be voting.

People took to social media to share videos and images of the violence. Free Wi-Fi networks under the name of 'Democracia' sprung up in order to keep communications alive. Many websites offering information had been shut down.

Voting upon whether they want Catalonia to be an independent state in the form of a republic, the thousands that gathered showed little sign of the patriotism that drapes the city walls. Instead of flags and colors most people wear white, in an attempt to stay neutral.

It is clear though, that a majority of the people waiting in the pouring rain, are waiting to vote 'yes'.
But not everybody who has turned out is supporting independence. An anti-independence rally on Saturday night struck a chord that was largely absent from Sunday's vote.
I want 'NO!' Do you want to know why? Firstly, because Catalonia, if you have not seen the map, is attached to Spain. What they want to do is illegal. Catalonia is in Spain. They say Catalonia does not want to be a part of Spain. Yes, a few people want independence. That does not speak for us all. What they have in the bag, is that all of us want independence. That is a lie! And while it is a lie, we will not be taking a part in their invented game. It is not valid in the slightest, where are the ballots, where would we vote, no one wants to vote. They can't, it's illegal, they've ignored the rules. They've ignored democracy. It's their doing, here they have put a banner saying 'More Democracy'. What democracy can they ask for, when they have just abandoned every law!?

I am from Catalonia, from here, Barcelona. I am Catalan, more than anyone. It's my country, my land. My land is Catalonia, but my country is Spain.

I am not going to vote. It's illegal! That's why they are hidden in their schools. Camouflaged in the colleges, with their boxes. They have neighbors in their houses, but what level of bravery is that? That cannot happen that way.

It's going to come out as a 'Yes'. Obviously. No one is going to vote, to put a paper in that says 'No'. The only ones that are going to vote will be saying 'Yes'.
A lady at a pro-remain march in Placa Liceu.
A man wearing a shirt with an Estelada (Catalan separatist flag) and holding carnations faces off with a Spanish Civil Guard officer outside a polling station for the banned independence referendum in Sant Julia de Ramis, Spain // © REUTERS Albert Gea
In search of Catalan residents voting against independence, I finally managed to find one man who had decided to attend the vote. His reasons, 'for the sake of democracy I will vote'.

And that is what the people chant come 8:00pm, when the last few voters leave to cheers, and when the polling stations close for the count.

For hours after, voters remain stationed outside the polls, as they have done all day to protect the ballot boxes from the police that may or may not show.

Tensions rise at the slightest noise of an engine, or whenever the word 'policia' is said. Helicopters cross the sky. By the close of the day, hundreds have been injured at the hands of the police – brutality that Mariano Rajoy has deemed acceptable against these lawbreakers.

A woman holds her hands up next Spanish National Police as they try to block voters from reaching a voting site at a school assigned to be a polling station by the Catalan government in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017 © AP Photo Manu Brabo
At 10:00pm, the tinny chime of pots and pans resounds through Barcelona, as hundreds stand on their balconies, making a din, demanding to be heard.

By 11:00pm, Carles Puigdemont announces the result. A majority of ballots cast ask for an independent state. But what will Spain make of this unconstitutional conclusion?
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