Trying to explain Catalonia’s bid for independence right now is like explaining how to change brake rotors while sitting in a van that just crashed through a guardrail and is plummeting 500 feet to the rocks below. Sure, it’s always nice to learn something new, but the time might really be better spent bracing for impact.
The referendum consists of a single question: “Do you want Catalonia to be an independent country in the form of a republic?” This Sunday, people all over Catalonia will flock to the polls to cast their vote.
Or they won’t. The Spanish government has deemed this whole referendum illegal, so many people (mostly those who want Catalonia to stay in Spain) may not even bother voting in what they consider to be nothing more than angry street theater.
Or they’ll try but just end up wandering aimlessly through the streets. No one actually knows where the polling places are going to be. Spain’s national police force, the Guardia Civil, has been kicking in doors all over Catalonia trying to find the estimated 6,000 ballot boxes the Catalan government has hidden away. They’ve already seized ten million paper ballots and millions of propaganda posters and leaflets. So the Catalan head honchos are understandably keeping a tight lid on where those ballot boxes are going to be. On Sunday, voter turnout may be low, but voter “turn out and wonder where the hell you’re supposed to go” could be close to 100%.
Or they will, but it won’t really matter. Whether you’re in the “stay” camp or the “leave” camp, you have to acknowledge that the results of this referendum vote are going to be meaningless from a statistical point of view. As I said earlier, there’s a solid chance that people on the “stay” side are just going to stay home. There will also be zero poll watchers from any of the “stay” political parties. I’m not saying the vote will definitely be tampered with, but I’d sure bring a calculator to the recount. And if the Guardia Civil is already raiding places and confiscating ballots, what are they going to do on Sunday once they find out where the actual polling places are? Even if you wanted to vote to secede, your ballot box might already be on the back of a Guardia Civil truck by the time you get to the poll.
And all this changes daily, sometimes by the hour or even by the minute. See that paragraph up there about not knowing where the polls are going to be? While I was writing that, I received a text message from the Catalan Secessionist Secret Underground HQ. (I’m not kidding. The revolution is being organized via WhatsApp, and security is so tight that an idiot like me figured out how to join.) The text contained web links where you can enter your identification number and receive information about where you’re supposed to go to vote.
And while I was just writing that paragraph, president of Catalonia Carles Puigdemont spilled the beans online that schools will be used as voting places.
So now everyone knows where the polls are going to be, including, of course, the Guardia Civil as well as Catalonia’s own police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra.
The Mossos d’Esquadra leads me to the next chapter of referendum ridiculousness. The Mossos is the regional Catalonian police force, but technically it answers to the Spanish authorities. Maybe. No one is really sure, including the Mossos. The Spanish authorities told the Mossos to shut down the schools on Friday afternoon. Many Catalans on the Mossos said, “Fat chance. Go ahead and try to put me in prison for allowing someone to vote.” The head of the Mossos said he won’t cordon off the schools because it will be too disruptive. By “too disruptive,” I assume he means, “everyone will burn the city down if I try to prevent them from voting.” But the Mossos have all sworn to uphold the Spanish Constitution, which this referendum completely violates. And round and round we go.
For a long time, I thought the situation of the Mossos offered the clearest example of how far off the rails this whole situation has gotten. You have a highly armed police force not entirely sure what it’s supposed to do or who it’s even supposed to be listening to.
But this week, the Mossos got bumped to number two on the list of inane aspects of the referendum.
Since the Spanish government can’t be sure that the Mossos will break up the vote on Sunday, they sent an extra 5,000 Guardia Civil members to Barcelona over the weekend. That’s a lot of people. So where does one house 5,000 heavily armed military personnel in charge of breaking up a democratic yet illegal vote?