Carles Puigdemont is the 130th president of Catalonia.
After three centuries under Spanish rule, on Oct. 1, citizens of Catalonia will finally have the chance to exercise their right to self-determination. More than 5 million eligible voters will have the right to decide on a simple question: “Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?”
The way to this historic referendum was paved by a majority decision of the Catalonian parliament. In our last regional election in September 2015, pro-independence parties won 47.8 percent of the vote, which gave them an absolute majority of seats. Unionist parties won 39.1 percent of the votes, a clear defeat, while the rest of the votes went to parties that defend the right to self-determination but are not necessarily in favor of independence. So there can be no denying the democratic legitimacy of our current Catalonian government. For this reason, after making several unsuccessful efforts to agree on the terms of the referendum with Spanish President Mariano Rajoy, I initiated the referendum.
In stark contrast to the governments of Canada or Britain, Madrid has refused to accept this democratic challenge, and has opted instead for the path of authoritarian repression. In most parts of the developed world, police protect ballot boxes, polling stations, and voters. In Catalonia today, the situation is the opposite. Spanish security forces are confiscating ballots and ballot boxes, stripping campaign posters from the walls, and intimidating citizens. They have arrested officials of the Catalan government, tapped telephones, raided private residences, and banned political rallies.
It seems incredible that this could happen in Spain in the 21st century. One French journalist recently noted that the Spanish government is acting more like Nicolás Maduro’s Venezuelan dictatorship than a healthy European democracy. And consider the fact that Catalonia, Spain, and other European countries are currently on maximum alert against jihadi terrorism. Instead of working to prevent possible attacks, Spain’s police forces are working to prevent the exercise of democracy. This is profoundly irresponsible.
The Spanish government has also gravely violated the freedom of expression and of information. Not only has it prohibited both public and private media from broadcasting advertisements about the referendum, it has also moved to block Catalan government websites that inform the public about the vote. Madrid has even blocked proxy servers, a procedure employed by only the most totalitarian regimes. The Spanish government not only wants to keep Catalans from voting, but also to prevent them from being informed.
This de facto state of siege to which the Spanish State has submitted Catalonia nullifies the autonomy conceded in 1979. A few days ago the central government seized control over Catalonia’s finances, thus imperiling the Catalan economy, which is the motor of the Spanish economy. Catalonia is responsible for almost 20 percent of Spanish GDP, and our exports comprise some 25 percent of all Spanish exports. Spain is thus gravely damaging its own economy as well as putting Catalonia’s at risk, and is even threatening to cut some of the social services to which Catalonia’s people are entitled. Madrid is thus punishing each and every citizen of Catalonia indiscriminately, whether or not they actually want independence.
The Spanish government has to understand that its behavior is unacceptable from the point of view of democracy and civil rights. Four decades after the death of the dictator Francisco Franco, we still find that authoritarian instincts rule at the heart of the Madrid government. Respect for minorities is a fundamental human right, and the right of self-determination is an irrevocable right of all nations.
Our commitment to the right of self-determination and to the will of the Catalan people to decide its own future remains unshaken. The repression of the Spanish government will not be able to change that. On Oct. 1, citizens of Catalonia will exercise their right to decide whether they want to become a new independent republic, just like other peoples of the world have done before them. This is the moment of the people of Catalonia, but we are not alone in this fight. We call on democrats around the world to give support to this long struggle between freedom and authoritarianism.