On 20th September 2017 Spanish police raided Catalan Government offices in Barcelona, arrested some officials and representatives and also besieged the city’s offices of the CUP political party. A documentary film of the events, the spontaneous mobilisation of thousands of Catalans, the management of the event by “the two Jordis” and the CUP resistance was shown in Dublin on 22nd September to an appreciative audience and afterwards a panel of speakers contributed opinions and replied to questions.
The video, called 20 S – the Documentary follows many of the events of that day and its screening was organised by CDR Dublin. The CDRs, abbreviation for Comites de Defensa de la Republica, were set up after the Spanish police attacks on people voting in the Referendum on October 1st and arrests of independence activists afterwards and may be found in various places in Catlalunya and around the world.
Spontaneously thousands of Catalans gathered in Barcelona on 20th September a year ago to protest the raids but the leaders of the two grassroots organisations of Omnium and ANC respectively, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez managed to keep the resistance peaceful while the CUP prevented entry to their offices. The leaders of the Catalan independence movement believe it important to maintain resistance active but peaceful in the face of Spanish police provocation and have been largely successful in maintaining this line to date. The police force invading the Catalan Government offices was the Spanish paramilitary police force of the Guardia Civil, while those besieging the CUP offices were the other Spanish State force of the Policía Nacional.
The film is remarkable in that parts of it follow both Jordis as they try to negotiate with the police and at the same time inform the crowd and keep it under peaceful. One can see that many in the crowd are reluctant to disperse when asked to by the Jordis. One also sees when they are shocked to learn from demonstrators that police have left firearms in one of the unattended Guardia Civil vehicles parked outside Catalan Government offices.
The viewer also sees the CUP leaders refusing to allow access to their offices to the Policía Nacional who claim they have search warrants but fail to produce them, despite which they remain besieging for hours, with CUP activists barricaded inside the building.
The film of the action is interrupted at times with later commentary from a number of independence activists, including journalists.
The film demonstrated the mass nature of the Catalan pro-independence movement and the nerve and skillful crisis management of a number of its leaders. The extremely prominent role of the leaders of Omnium (Omnium Cultural) and the ANC (Asamblea Nacional de Catalunya) demonstrated eloquently that despite the concentration of news media on the leaders of political parties, it is the grassroots organisations that really hold the mobilising power (a fact demonstrated once again the demonstrations and general strike in Catalunya in the celebration of the Diada on September 11th last year, the Catalan National Day and again this year when police estimates of the pro-independence demonstration in Barcelona put the attendance at one million marchers).
Despite their clear activity to prevent violence towards the police and to manage the crowd, in October “the two Jordis” were among the Catalan pro-independence activists arrested for “Rebellion” and “Sedition” and have been kept in jail without bail since, awaiting trial (which might not now be held this year). Other Catalan activists, including elected representatives, are in exile.
The showing of the film was well received by the audience in the Pearse Library, Pearse Street and sustained applause broke out as the credits scrolled down the screen.
When the lights came on a representative of Dublin CDR introduced the panel:
Liz Castro, USA Journalist writing much on the Spanish state and Catalunya, Eva Fantova of the ANC (who had appeared in th film, particularly as a commentator) and Clare Boylan, Sinn Féin MEP (member of the European Parliament).
In questions directed towards them by the CDR representative and later by members of the audience, all the panel speakers were clear that they did not expect justice from the Spanish courts for the Catalan independentists and did not believe that a separation between Government and Judiciary existed in the Spanish State.
Both Fantova and Castro referred to the case of the youth from the Basque town of Altsasu who had been sentenced to nine years jail over a late night brawl in a bar with off-duty Spanish police in which the maximum injury was a fractured ankle. The youth had been detained without bail awaiting trial with the State Prosecutor seeking to have them tried under “anti-terror” legislation, with a possible sentence of 30 years jail. However, even under ordinary Spanish criminal law, they had still received nine years in jail. Meanwhile a group of men, two of which were members of State forces, accused of gang-raping a young woman and filming the act, were out on bail while they appealed their short sentences.
With regard to what could be expected from the new Prime Minister and the social-democratic PSOE currently in minority government, the ANC representative commented that the PSOE is a Spanish unionist party also and when in opposition supported the Spanish State and Government’s actions against the Catalan independence movement.
A member of the audience commented that after Franco’s death, the Spanish ruling class had brought both the PSOE and the Spanish Communist Party (PCE), both illegal under Franco, into the State under condition that they accepted the status quo, the union and the monarchy that was being imposed on the people in the state. Their importance was great since each of those parties controlled a large trade union, also previously banned, and together they constitute the vast majority of unionised workers in the Spanish state. Since then those parties worked to control the people’s resistance and prevent any serious change.
A number of questions about what might be expected from the European Union Parliament and from the Irish Parliament were directed towards Clare Boylan, as an MEP and as a member of the Sinn Féin party, which has 22 elected members in the Dáil, the Irish Parliament (out of a total of 158 seats). She said that both the main Spanish Parties belong to the two largest EU Parliamentary Groups, the PP to the Christian Democrats/ Conservatives and the PSOE to Social Democrats, which makes it difficult to get a motion against the Spanish Government agreed in the EU.
With regard to the Irish Government, Boylan expressed pessimism on having them declare in favour of Catalan independence, whatever their personal opinions might be, with no evident support showing among most of the governments of EU countries.
Asked about getting more coverage of the Catalan situation in the world’s media, Liz Castro expressed her puzzlement at the low level of interest generally outside of the Spanish state. Boylan reported that the Irish national broadcaster RTÉ had sent no-one to cover the Catalan independence Referendum of October 1st and when it had been attacked by the Spanish police, as she had been in Catalunya with party colleagues to monitor and to support the Catalan movement, RTÉ had been reduced to phoning her to ask what was happening.
A member of the audience commented that he had no faith in either the Irish Government or the EU and that the first had justified his lack of faith since its creation and that the second was dominated by neo-liberal parties. He did not believe that the lack of interest of the media had to do with lack of space since they managed to cover all kinds of irrelevant gossip about personalities. He said that we need to be our own media to the extent that we can, pointing out that Catalan solidarity organisations CDR Dublin and With Catalonia/ Leis an Chatalóin each have Facebook pages on which news is posted and Casals Catalá d’Irlanda, a cultural organisation, also has a Facebook page and we should be posting information to those pages and sharing some of the information from there on to our own personal pages. The video they had seen was also available on the internet and should be shared. The ANC and Omnium had shown the importance of grassroots movements in Catalunya and we should replicate that in the small way that we can here in Ireland, he said. This contribution was greeted with applause.
The meeting concluded soon after, the speakers and audience being thanked for their attendance and contributions responding with applause for the organisers, the CDC Dublin and for the speakers.
NOTE ON CATALAN POLITICAL PARTIES
The Catalan Govern (Government) is a pro-independence coalition of a left-republican party and a conservative party, both of which themselves are coalitions:
ERC (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya – Republican Left of Catalonia) and JxCat (Junts per Catalunya – Together for Catalonia).
A further Catalan pro-independence party is the CUP (Canditura d’Unitat Popular – Popular Unity Candidature) in opposition but in support of the Government on independence and against the unionist opposition.
The Spanish unionist opposition to the Government is composed of a number of Catalan sections of parties of the Spanish conservative Right and social democracy:
Cs or Ciutadans (Partido del la Ciudadanía – Citizens’ Party) with currently the most seats; PSC (Partido Socialista de Catalunya – Socialist Party of Catlanunya), Catalan iteration of the PSOE, currently in government of the Spanish state; Partido Popular (Spanish right-wing party recently in government of the Spanish state).
There is also a coalition of groups including the Catalan version of Podemos the actual policy towards independence of which is difficult to nail down. In the Spanish state the Podemos (We Can) party has supported the right of self-determination but opposed its exercise in favour of independence, arguing instead for a social-democratic kind of Spanish federal republic.
LINKS FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
CDR Dublin: https://www.facebook.com/CDRDublin/
With Catalonia/ Leis an Chatalóin: https://www.facebook.com/WithCataloniaIreland/
For cultural information and events: Casal Catala d’Irlanda https://www.facebook.com/groups/CatalansIrlanda/
Catalan News (10-minute daily roundup on video): catalannews.com