Cross-posted from The Guardian
Spain is in crisis, and its prime minister appears to be in denial. The run-up to Sunday’s referendum on independence for Catalonia made it clear that the country was in trouble. But neither those arranging it nor those rejecting it can fully have anticipated the scenes at polling stations: police in riot gear beating peaceful protesters with batons, dragging voters out by the hair or throwing them down stairs, firing rubber bullets to disperse crowds – even striking at Catalan firefighters and jostling with Catalan police.
The immediate result of the violence was hundreds of casualties by mid-afternoon, according to Catalan authorities, and at least 11 wounded officers, according to the central government. The wider effect is the shock expressed well beyond Catalonia, and Spain. The outcome is almost certain to be that some of the Catalans indifferent or opposed to secession – until now, at least, the majority – are pushed into the arms of the cause. Who wants to be ruled by a state like this, many are asking.
Yet Mariano Rajoy’s response, in his address to the nation, was simple: there was no referendum and no problem – police acted with “firmness and serenity”. The responsibility for all that had happened lay with the Catalonian government. Spain is paying for his determination to stop the illegal vote by the bluntest means and at all costs. His latest remarks are only likely to inflame matters…