Ballots containing a single, deceptively simple, question — “Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?” — is being asked of Catalans Sunday, but the controversial attempt to create a sovereign nation has the government of Spain quite literally up in arms.
Spanish police clad in heavy riot gear fired rubber bullets, seized ballot boxes and papers, raided polling stations, smashed doors and windows, and generally put forth a concerted effort to quash the referendum seeking independence for Catalonia — a vote declared illegal by the nation’s constitutional court and the government of Spain.
Video footage of the chaos shows National Police and Guardia Civil security forces inundating areas around polling stations, pushback from scores in the streets, and intermittent shots of rubber bullets being fired into crowds.
Nevertheless, thousands — who hadn’t already occupied designated schools and buildings since yesterday — thronged to polling stations to cast their lot in the historic and fraught Catalan referendum, about which Wikileaks founder Julian Assange accused the Spanish government of waging the “world’s first internet war,” tweeting,
“The world’s first internet war has begun, in Catalonia, as the people and government use it to organize an independence referendum on Sunday and Spanish intelligence attacks, freezing telecommunications links, occupying telecoms buildings, censors 100s of sites, protocols etc.”
Spanish authorities have furiously censored websites and voting apps related to the Catalan referendum, occupied telecommunications buildings, arrested independence leaders, and raided the information technology offices of the .cat domain registry in Barcelona — seizing computers and arresting the head of IT last week, and charging him with “sedition.”
Today, as the enormously contentious vote got underway, the Telegraph reports, “Civil Guard national police reinforcements began deploying in the darkness in Barcelona where about 100 police vans streamed into the capital of Catalonia from the port where they had been stationed, a Reuters witness said […]
“Police shut down electronic voting systems and sealed off hundreds of schools to prevent Sunday’s vote, which has put European Union leaders on edge at a time when the bloc is trying to emphasise post-Brexit cohesion.”
Clashes between national police and voters as eager to cast their vote as determined against all odds to do so began even before the polls opened, but escalated shortly thereafter, leaving at least 38 injured thus far. Voters would have had the option of using apps to cast their ballots — but Spanish authorities shut down 29 voter applications before Sunday, which would have provided an online ballot and its count.
When the government shut down the Catalan referendum website — an invaluable source for potential voters to receive information on polling locations and much more — Wikileaks stepped in and mirrored the site, ensuring State censorship would not prohibit the free flow of information.
In salient contrast — though perhaps unsurprisingly — Google failed to question a ruling by the Spanish constitutional court last week deeming the Catalan referendum, itself, illegal, and instead blocked an app which had assisted users with polling stations.
“The software integrated Google Maps and GPS functions and was meant to allow Catalan voters to find their nearest polling stations during the October 1 referendum, and to share information related to such locations,” Antiwar.com’s Jason Ditz reported Friday.
“The judge in question accused the app of being a continuation of Catalan efforts to defy the court ban on the referendum. The ban intends to extend to all future voting software related to the Catalan referendum.
“Google says it is their policy to remove software whenever they get a court order. In this case, however, it amounts to the Spanish national government trying to undermine an election carried out by regional authorities on a possible secession, which seems a grey area.”
Indeed, the gray area is indicative of the bristling history between Spain and Catalonia, a region in northern part of the former and comprising 20 percent of its economy, with around 7.5 million people, or 15 percent of the total Spanish population. Catalans have a defined language and culture, but not all the Catalan nations are encompassed in today’s referendum.
While reports indicate additional problems with the vote, likely due to the Spanish government pressing forward with banning it altogether, images from the ground in multiple locations prove dogged and enthusiastic Catalans are living up to their chants, “Votarem, votarem!” — “We will vote!”