Rubber Bullets and Riots: Catalonian Secession Turns Violent

Early reports from the illegal referendum for Catalonia to secede from Spain indicate that the region has voted to leave the country on October 1. The culturally and linguistically unique, wealthy, and autonomous region of northern Spain has a long history of independence movements stretching back to the fifteenth century, the most notable of which are the non-binding and inconclusive votes of 2009 and 2014.

The months leading up to October’s vote have been fraught with political controversy, with Spanish President Mariano Rajoy seizing more than 10 million ballots, arresting top officials in the Catalonian government, and fining those connected to the organization of what he saw as an illegal vote. Despite these setbacks, the Catalonian government -- which exercises independently of the central government in many ways -- continued with plans for the secession referendum, a move which many have pointed to as the root of violence across the region. 

Catalonian officials claim that around 800 people were injured in the clashes between police and voters, with the national guard firing rubber bullets and forcibly removing protesters camped out at closed polling stations.  Although the final results will take several days to verify, officials estimate that 42 percent of voters turned out to cast their ballots at the polls that were not shut down. Of those voters, 90 percent voted in favor of separation from Spain, a rate high enough for Catalonia’s President Puigdemont to announce a victory.  However, one must remember that those who were willing to face extreme conditions across the region on voting day were likely those most motivated to vote for independence.

Consequences of a “Yes” vote are yet to be confirmed, with countless world leaders condemning the vote and top European Union officials stating that Catalonia would not remain in the EU if it were to secede from Spain.  Even if Catalonians vote against independence, Madrid is likely to enforce some sort of punishment for the vote that was outlawed in the democratic constitution that Catalonia accepted after the Spanish Civil War.