In what will no doubt be remembered as a dramatic day in Spain’s history, the Catalonian government says that over 761 people were injured when police attempted to prevent an independence vote from happening across the region on Sunday. Spanish officials also announced that 12 police officers had been hurt.
A backlash from the Spanish government had been anticipated, as Madrid had declared the vote illegitimate and illegal while Catalonians camped out in primary schools all weekend in order to use them as polling stations on Sunday.
But the aggressive police crackdown on voters Sunday seemed to surprise nearly everyone, including foreign officials. “Violence can never be the answer! We condemn all forms of violence and reaffirm our call for political dialogue,” Charles Michel, the prime minister of Belgium said on Twitter.
“Increasingly concerned by images from Catalonia,” Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted. “Regardless of views on independence, we should all condemn the scenes being witnessed and call on Spain to change course before someone is seriously hurt. Let people vote peacefully.”
Images that surfaced on social media Sunday showed chaos and unrest as Catalonians continued to try to vote on a non-legally binding referendum, and police attempted to shut down polling stations and disrupt rallying.
This video of police attempting to eject Catalonians from what appeared to be a voting center was shared profusely on social media. The source of the video is unknown, but the graphic video was picked up and shared by the BBC and other news agencies.
Another video showed masked police coming into voting centers and disrupting the vote.
Although the Catalonian rallies and voting appeared to be largely peaceful, this video (posted by the ministry of the interior) from Sant Joan de Vilatorrada shows a Guardia Civil officer being hit with a chair after moving through a smashed window into a polling station.
Photos of injured civilians also surfaced online throughout the day.
Another video showed what The Guardian said was police removing voters near a polling station outside Guinardò market in Barcelona.
Several calls have now been made for the prime minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, to step down in the wake of the violence. Over in the capital of Madrid, there was a rally in support of Catalonians’ right to vote, and calling for Rajoy’s resignation.
The modern Catalonian independence movement dates pretty far back; the territory has its own language and cultural identity, both of which were aggressively repressed under the Franco regime. Since regaining some autonomy within the country following Franco’s death, the movement gained significant traction again when the Spanish financial crisis hit in 2008, plunging the country into recession and unemployment.
But the independence referendum was in many ways more likely to be seen as symbolic than as a call to arms.
According to The Guardian, a recent Catalan poll found that 70 percent of Catalonians wanted a referendum on the region’s future independence. However, support for actual independence was only around 41 percent. Following today’s actions by the Spanish government, the country may have become more polarized.