At a critical juncture in its political future, Catalonia comes to a halt as a mass strike takes over the city. Instead of going to work, people attend demonstrations against the Spanish authorities, and in favor of their independence.
Catalonia's regional government has announced that they are preparing to declare independence within the next few days, despite Mariano Rajoy's announcement on Sunday that 'no referendum took place.'
Following Sunday's contentious referendum, which left almost 900 Catalan citizens in hospital, anger has turned to the National Police and the Civil Guards. Riled up youths gather outside Barcelona's national police station late on Monday night.
They throw white paper airplanes at the building and onto police vehicles. Banners reading 'Sin Violencia' are placed onto bumpers. Woman punch their fists into the air, red tears painted onto their faces.
True to their word, there is no violence here, but the anger hangs thick in the air. The atmosphere feels fragile, the protesters look deprived of both sleep and, as states Tomas, 26, 'of their rightful independence.' The Mossos, Catalonia's state police, barricade the entrance to the police station to try to retain some distance between the angry revelers and the condemned police force. In contrast, earlier in the day, a 15-minute round of applause was held in honor of the Catalan fire service, who fought off police as they tried to force their way into polling stations.
Some 844 people required medical attention at the hands of law enforcement, as ballot boxes were ripped from their fixings. Disturbing footage shows the moment civilians try to revive a man fallen due to a heart attack, triggered no doubt by the arrival of the national police. A heavily armored policeman lunges at the people gathered in aid, toppling them onto the fallen man. This man was taken to hospital and survived.
According to the regional government, an overwhelming 90% majority of ballots were cast in favor of independence, despite only 56.75% of registered Catalans voting. Out of the 3,032,424 registered Catalans that participated in the vote, 2,020,144 ballots were cast in favor of independence. 65,715 of the total cast were null, or blank votes, 770,000 people were unable to vote, or their votes were stolen by the Spanish police.
The referendum had been declared as illegal by the Spanish Government from its conception a few weeks ago.
There has been a disconcerting lack of support from European leaders. The morning after the vote, international press 'Shamed Spain', demonizing an entire nation for the actions of a few. Catalonia is insistent towards its will for a peaceful dialogue, but Europe is hesitant to take notice.
Whilst a large proportion of Catalonia will take part in this, many Catalan citizens against independence want to get on with their lives. Not every resident is supportive of the recent events taking place in Catalonia. Whilst fundamentally against the actions of the police, a large number of the locals disagree with how the regional government has handled the last few days, valorizing only those in favor of independence.
Barcelona is deadly quiet apart from the continual drone of helicopters overhead. There is no public transport whatsoever as the transport workers have joined the general strike. This morning, citizens woke early to prepare banners and practice chants. They are hoping for a peaceful day, but they have told me with concerned faces that they cannot guarantee it. "Be careful today," they say. I have been to a number of local marches, families and anarchists marching with banners. For them it almost seems like some kind of holiday, it is unusual that everybody is away from work at the same time. Now I am walking the long journey to the center. There is no other way to get there.
The few taxis that have passed sped off when I asked them to take me there. "We're not going there. No one is. The roads are closed and the protesters don't want us working. You'll have to walk.'
Tourists stand outside shuttered restaurants, wondering why they are unable to find somewhere to eat lunch. I have talked to many holiday makers who don't have an inkling of the political unrest surrounding them.
When I arrive at the center I expect hordes of people brandishing flags and shouting in anguish. I am curious to see whether there are Spanish flags being waved and whether anyone showed up to their work. The pressure not to show is strong. I talked to Jose who told me timidly when I asked why he was working: "I work for money. Not all of us need to fight this fight. I do not want this independence. I do not agree with violence." He asked me to change his name. Others have said "servicio minimo," this is a school. It is not closed and the children have to eat. Some companies are running skeleton services.