By Peter H. Salus
Sunday’s Washington Post said: “The optics could not have been worse for the central government. Images out of the northeast region of Catalonia showed ordinary men and women being roughly dragged from the polls by helmeted police dressed all in black.”
That’s an understatement.
Wherever you look (at BBC or The New York Times or the Toronto Star), you can see images of women, older folks and youths being brutalized. If Madrid wanted to put it’s worst face forward, the government couldn’t have done it more effectively. (Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said police had “acted with professionalism and in a proportionate way.”) Late in the afternoon, BBC reported: “Police have been filmed violently tackling voters as they try to prevent a banned vote in Catalonia, Spain.”
One of my heroes, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote in “Letter From Birmingham Jail,”  that “the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and assassinated in 1968.
I see myself as a “white moderate.” I knew Dorothy Day and supported the Catholic Worker. When I lived in New York I demonstrated against the invasion of Vietnam and against the Draft (and was arrested a number of times, once sharing a cell with Allen Ginsberg). Over the past six months or so, I have become increasingly restive.
Look at the question of Catalonia in terms “the presence of justice.”
The government of Spain and the Spanish Constitutional Court have stated that a referendum must not be held, as there is no proviso for it in the Spanish Constitution. I don’t question this. But it is a legalistic response. Is it just?
I would state that holding the referendum would be an important act on the part of the population of Catalonia. Permitting that referendum would be an act of justice on the part of the government of Spain.
Exactly what the appropriate response should be is a different question. And it is a question that can only be answered sensibly after a referendum and after its result is known.
I have friends in Catalonia and elsewhere in Spain. All but one of my friends in Barcelona are in favor of independence. None of my friends in Madrid or Grenada is in favor of Catalonian independence.
But every one of them thinks that a referendum should take place. Moreover, the attitude of the Madrid government, especially sending in the Guardia Civil, has pushed my acquaintances toward the Catalonians.
Madrid is afraid of a vote. A Catalan vote for independence from Spain would trigger a similar vote in Euskal Herria, the Basque country, and start Spain down the road to disintegration. It is incumbent upon Madrid to supply reasons. Sending in troops is not a reason.
Only a referendum can ensure “a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” Sending several hundred civilians to hospitals is not a “positive peace.” Nor is the presence of nearly 10,000 troops “the presence of justice.”
As I write, only two European leaders have spoken out: Nicola Sturgeon and Ruth Davidson. Scots in opposing parties.
Next April 4th, by the way, it will be 50 years since Dr. King was assassinated.