An illegal vote. State police censoring political websites. Paramilitary police using violence against peaceful protesters. Calls from Amnesty International to release imprisoned political campaigners. The right-wing preparing to seize control of a democratically-elected government.
You might think that I’m talking about a backward dictatorship in a far-flung corner of the world. Rather depressingly, I’m not. Instead, these events are happening right now in one of our fellow EU countries.
By now, I’m sure most of you are aware of events in Catalonia. You may not be aware that this is not a sudden constitutional crisis, but the culmination of centuries of repression from Madrid and, more recently, a failure of the right-wing national government to engage in meaningful dialogue with the wealthy north-east region’s autonomous government.
Spain’s transition from the brutal dictatorship of General Franco to democracy has often been admired by foreign observers. 40 years on from the horrors of Franco’s Spain, the country is now regarded as a respected liberal democracy.
Let me be frank and shatter those illusions for you:
There is nothing liberal about national leaders refusing to engage with political problems (instead passing that responsibility to the courts and ensuring that, rather than progress reflecting changes to the political reality, the status quo is maintained at all costs).
There is nothing democratic about sending riot police in to beat peaceful demonstrators and elderly citizens to stop them from exercising the most fundamental democratic right: the right to vote.
Of course, Madrid is correct in asserting that the referendum on 1 October was illegal (well, contrary to the nation’s constitution), but instead of negotiating a legal referendum in which the “no” camp would likely have won (whilst opinion on independence is almost evenly split, official polls commissioned by the Catalan government suggest a small majority for “no”), they have acted with all the brutality of the European dictatorships of old.
Instead of immediately declaring independence on the strength of the referendum result, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont suspended that declaration and called for dialogue with Spain. As expected, Madrid refused. After all, why would they accept dialogue now, when they had refused 18 times in the past.
Now, Mariano Rajoyís government are preparing to invoke Article 155 of the constitution – allowing them to take control of the democratically-elected regional government. If they do, the regional government will immediately declare independence.
It is a frightening stand-off which, on its present trajectory, will not end well.
As liberals, we should be championing the Catalans’ freedom to protest peacefully, free from fear of arrest, censorship or police violence. As democrats, we should be condemning the use of courts to solve political problems, and calling for Madrid to enter the meaningful dialogue Barcelona is calling for.
It is not our place to dictate whether Catalonia becomes independent or not – clearly that is their decision alone. But as Liberal Democrats and Europeans, we should be unequivocal in our condemnation of the Spanish government’s iron-fisted approach and support of the Catalans’ fundamental democratic and human rights.
This post was originally published on Liberal Democrat Voice.
Formed in 2012, the Catalan National Assembly (Assemblea Nacional Catalana, or ANC) is a grassroots organisation promoting Catalan independence.
Boasting 80,000 members, the ANC is one of the largest pro-independence civil society organisations whose founding president, Carme Forcadell, is now the President of the Parliament of Catalonia.
However, despite a budget in excess of €5.2 million in 2015, their website has a look and feel that seems to predate their March 2012 formation. It also has no mobile-friendly alternative (have they never heard of Bootstrap?) – and any idiot with a smartphone knows how painfully frustrating it is to try to navigate a drop down menu from a mobile device.
The greatest concern for visitors to the ANC’s website, though, is the number of potential security risks contained within its pages. In fact, users of Norton Safe Web are blocked from accessing the site with a menacing warning that it is a “known dangerous website”.
According to Norton’s Safe Web Report, the website contains a worrying 45 computer threats, including 28 instances of viruses and 17 security risks. There is no evidence of any identity threats on the website.
The ANC’s web presence does, however, contain a number of “Fake Jquery Injections”, which are malicious scripts which can download potentially damaging elements onto visitors’ computers. The presence of this kind of threat often indicates that a website has been hacked – and is flagged by Norton as posing a serious security threat.
There are also a number of “Malicious Script Redirections”, which are just as malicious and are also scripts which can download potentially damaging content. These scripts could also be a result of a hack.
It is not clear how long the ANC’s website has been compromised. However, until the organisation’s tech gurus fix the numerous security issues, visitors without effective antivirus protection could be putting the health of their computers at risk.
Ever wondered what Barcelona’s Catalan metro station names mean in English?
Well, reddit user teologico has recreated the metro map with literal translations of each station – with some hilarious results.
Now you know that when you are riding L1 from Santa Coloma to Can Serra, you are literally travelling from Saint Pigeon to Saw Home, whilst passing through stations such as Towers & Bagels (Torres i Bages) or the impressive Urwhatawave (Urquinaona).
Or maybe you are travelling from Maragall to Collblanc on L5, and notice Entença on your way through. Now, thanks to this handy map, you can see that you have, in fact, left Seatorooster and arrived at Whiteneck. That station you saw on the way through? Well, that was called Doyounderstanda.
I would, of course, advise keen travellers to take the translations on this map with a pinch of salt (or a glass of Cava!) and refer to each station by it’s proper Catalan name if you wish to enjoy a smooth journey!
You can see the full-size map – together with other people’s reactions – on reddit. The official metro map, including the tram and Rodalies rail stations, is available on the Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona website here (PDF).