After the atrocities seen in Catalonia on the 1st of October 2017, most democrats and human rights advocates are burning in indignation. We are all biased in the way we see Catalonia’s independence, depending on our ideals and our own personal background, but putting that aside we should all condemn the violence seen that day in the 2017 Europe. Tears filled our eyes seeing the brutality in the images. That will never be unseen…
That said, something that has somehow passed unnoticed these days is the large amount of Monty-Pythonesque stories that surrounded Sunday’s referendum.
In an attempt to lift up spirits and give an insight into the cheeky and ingenious nature of the peaceful Catalan referendum, we have collected as many of these stories as it was possible. Thanks everyone for the images provided and the first hand stories. Some update might happen as more of these stories come to light.
For quite a while now, every night at 22h there are ‘cassolades’ all over Catalonia. This consists of taking a cooking pot and banging it off the window, balcony, or on the street as a sign of protest. People that found themselves in the streets with no pot to bang would shake their keys to contribute to the orchestral noise. Others, at bars and restaurants, would do the same, joining in in the protest no matter the activity that they were doing. Walking the streets at 22h felt like bells singing all around.
This small village of only 450 inhabitants, at the heart of the Montseny forest, is a cul-de-sac. The only road into the village is the only road out. The inhabitants of this little village had already long voted by the time the Guardia Civil arrived. While they were busy looking for the hidden polling boxes and doing the corresponding destruction of public mobiliary, some villagers cut down a few tall pine trees blocking the village’s only road. After looking for the boxes in vain, the Guardia Civil were ready to move onto the next village. But to their surprise they were blocked and couldn’t exit the village through the main road, and they were left with the only option of crossing through forest tracks, up the mountain. They got lost, on top of that, as the villagers had previously changed road signs and forest tracks marks, and the night came. I can imagine the laughs of all the villages in the area that witnessed the torchlights going up and down the mountain in confusion. Finally, and not without irony considering the events in other points of Catalonia that day, it was the Catalan police that had to come and save the Spanish Military Police from their endless senseless walk.
Against violence, this village showed humour and ingenuity!
In an even smaller village of just over 200 inhabitants, Mura, all voters had already casted their votes early in the morning, and had hidden the polling boxes away. When the Guardia Civil came they could not possibly find them. As it is often the case, the hardest things to find are right in front of us…
The villagers had hidden them up on the trees.
In a yet EVEN smaller village in Girona, with only 17 voting inhabitants, they had already voted, counted the votes and transmitted the results to the government by 9:05, hiding the single polling box. They were organising a community lunch in the village when at midday the Guardia Civil made their appearance, determined to stop the vote. With no resistance from the villagers, the Guardia Civil had to leave empty handed.
Guess where the polling box was? Again, right in front of them. Everyone contributed to the extent of their possibilities, and it was beautiful to see.
Domino at Sant Iscle Vallalta
As many other villagers in the area – the Guardia Civil entered 6 small villages in the Maresme – the members of the polling tables had engineered a system to confuse the Guardia Civil and defy their purpose without being exposed to violence. With sentinells to announce the arrival of the Spanish military police, the polling stations would make all polling boxes, ballots and envelopes disappear as in a magic trick, and they would immediately stage a domino competition. With admirable calm while being searched by the police that had inflicted violent aggressions in other villages and cities, the voters would keep playing, business as usual.
The Guardia Civil also swept many polling stations in Lleida, west Catalonia, using violence in many to take the polling boxes away and destroying public and private property in the process. But in some of the villages they found it harder to locate the material linked to the referendum.
One of the success stories of no violence is St Ramon, in the Segarra region, with about 500 inhabitants. St Ramon welcomed the police with laughs, music and songs. A group of 15 policemen headed to the polling station, tailed by some of the citizens that, cheerfully, sang an old Catalan song, the Virolai.
While the police forces were searching for the polling boxes, some citizens started asking annoying questions:
“Can I go to the toilet, officer?”, “You need to wait” replied the angry Guardia Civil. “I want to go too!” Would join in another neighbour.
When the Guardia Civil confiscated the polling box, the neighbours still followed them out of the town mockingly asking “What town are you going to now? Tell us, we will come!”
The bait polling boxes and other odd stories
Using humour as the only other weapon next to the ballots, some villagers anticipated the arrival of the Guardia Civil and left a little something for them to find… This is the case of Benissanet and other villages in the south of Catalonia, in the Terres de l’Ebre.
There were polling boxes indeed, but maybe not what the Spanish police would expect to find.
Farmers wanting to contribute to the massive demonstrations that were taking place in the big cities, they helped block the access to villages to the Spanish Police by closing up roads and streets.
This would have been all much funnier if we didn’t know that those unprotected and in big cities had to face the violence of an out of control State force that acted with no less fascism than a paramilitary group.
Since the Spanish national police arrived in Barcelona, they’ve been staying at an Italian boat decorated with the Looney Toones. Demonstrations have then filled with “free Tweety” signs and the Spanish troops have been nicknamed as “Tweety brigades”.
How the president dodged the Spanish police
Another story worth a Hollywood movie is how the president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, managed to dodge the helicopter that was following him. Puigdemont, originally from Girona, was to vote at the station where he’s registered in, in Sant Julià de Ramis. This was widely known and therefore media, Spanish police and Guardia Civil were ready to prevent him from voting. With helicopters following his car, early in the morning Puigdemont announced, before the polling stations were open, that universal census allowed people to vote at any polling station, providing that the IT systems accessing the citizen registry could allow members of the stations to verify if someone had previously voted. Despite the many cyber attacks the referendum was exposed to, this system worked in many of the polling stations.
Going back to Puigdemont, he managed to dodge the police by swapping cars under a bridge, and go on to vote at a different location, at Cornellà de Terri.
The dark note is that this didn’t prevent the original polling station where Puigdemont had to vote to be violently attacked.
The famous polling boxes
For weeks before the referendum, all efforts of the Spanish National Intelligence and police forces (called Guardia Civil for the military police and Policia Nacional for the state police) had focused on finding the polling boxes and the ballots. Everyone wondered how this referendum was going to happen, considering the impediment from the Spanish government and the level of control they had. To give some examples:
– they gave fines to people having in their possession pro-referendum material (as in their car, bags, houses…);
– they broke into homes of people linked to the organisation of the referendum;
– they arrested elected governmental representatives;
– they closed up website after website that explained how to vote on the referendum – which was targeted for voters of yes, no, blank and even null of course;
– they threatened and broke into private companies that provide IT services to the Catalan government – including Google, Indra, IT systems – which were not politically linked to the process;
– they broke into printing companies that were suspected of printing ballots;
– rights of expression and of assembly were neglected over this, arresting even groups holding meetings on the topic.
Let’s stop here, because this is only a taste of the level of scrutiny of the Spanish intelligence on this matter.
The hilarious result was that…
They never found the polling boxes!
They had ONE job. And it wasn’t beating people up…
Elna, and how the story starts in France
The answer to how the referendum, the polling boxes and the ballots were made possible and organised despite the restless resistance of the State forces lies in this little town in Northern Catalonia.
[To those that don’t know, Northern Catalonia is a part of France that used to belong to main Catalonia (or South Catalonia as the French counterpart call it) before Catalonia was divided between the two neighbouring monarchies. Despite being two separate Catalonias – and no signs of them ever becoming one – the relations are very good with educational exchanges and collaborations due to the shared history, culture and language.]
Let that serve as an introduction to understand why the town of Elna or Elne in Northern Catalonia is important for the referendum that took place in Southern Catalonia. Elna is where, for days, the most wanted treasure by the State forces was kept safe: the polling boxes. 10,000 polling boxes had been ordered from China to arrive in France, not Spain, passing this way by the Spanish National Intelligence and military and security bodies.
This village of Elna has a long history of helping out her sister Catalonia in times of need, as it was the refuge of hundreds of republican women who, escaping from fascism, gave birth in a maternity hall created by a local nurse – Elisabeth Eidenbenz – who saved them all, by risking her own life.
Many people from both sides of the border risked themselves the last few months to make sure that a referendum of self determination could take place in Catalonia despite the State repression.
It is sad being forced to use trickery, clandestinity and anonymity in order to exercise a global right. It’s sad that all these people that helped a nation decide on their future couldn’t do it from the light of day, from the transparency that a legitimate movement should ensure.
On Sunday 1st October, the only people covering their faces were the Spanish police officers. People of all ages, political inclinations and backgrounds went to vote with their chins up, showing their determined and blissful faces to the world.
Some chants of solidarity, fraternity and humour
At many schools, as Catalan police would arrive trying to stop the referendum – as the orders received from the Spanish government demanded -, the agents would ask for the person in charge of the polling station. To this, everyone inside and outside would shout “Ho som tots!”, “it’s all of us”, in a Dead Poets Society fashion.
A chant that has been one of the stars of this September 2017 is “Els carrers seran sempre nostres”, “the streets will always be ours”. This peaceful revolutionary chant reminds us of the many times the people have had to stood up to politicians, governments, monarchs and dictators, with or without success. Because in the end the streets are for the people, and even more so when said people fill the streets with banners of peace, gay rights, feminism, and the right of self determination of a nation that has longed for its freedom through dictatorships, monarchies and disappointing democracy.
On a funny note, when the firemen offered to protect the citizens with their own bodies against the Spanish police threats, they chanted the very similar “Els bombers serem sempre vostres”, the firemen will always be yours, and plenty of parodies have since surfaced of this famous chant.
The most widespread chant before Sunday 1st was “votarem”, we will vote, which became “hem votat”, we voted, since Sunday night.
In several occasions in which demonstrators, before and after the referendum, were verbally – and sometimes physically – attacked by groups of extreme right, the demonstrators would stay together, arms up in the air, claiming “Som gent pacífica, i no ens agrada cridar”, “we’re peaceful people and we don’t like shouting”. Which was a strong, standing ground position from peaceful resistance, which does not necessarily mean weak.
At infiltree we believe that the world is a beautiful place and all cultures should have their place in it, with no State or army threatening the well-being of those that demonstrate in peace to make their rights be acknowledged.
The self determination of the people is a Human Right, as well as a EU citizen right, and we back up the right of Catalonia to decide on their government and their future independently of other States and institutions. With no inclination towards the Yes or the No or the Blank that all citizens have the right to support, supporting the right to decide is the only neutrality we see in this issue. Not everything anti-constitutional is illegal, and not everything illegal is the wrong thing to do. If workers hadn’t taken illegal measures we wouldn’t have the 8hour working day. If women hadn’t fought for unthinkable legal changes, women wouldn’t vote today.
By no means can someone justify the violence lived in Catalonia on Sunday 1st October 2017, a dark day to all of Europe, another unneeded Bloody Sunday.
This post is dedicated to all of those that know that they are free, even if the world around them hasn’t yet understood it. Those that know that to be free you should never ask for permission nor for forgiveness. Those that fight for their rights and those of others. Those that have been injured and killed defending what is fair, because violence was the only argument “the other side” provided.
“Il n’y a point de plus cruelle tyrannie que celle que l’on exerce a l’ombre des lois et avec les couleurs de la justice.”
Montesquieu, 18th century