What will happen at the end of this week? It is a question everyone in Spain is asking today. The Madrid government is preparing its plans to dismiss President Puigdemont and the top level of the Catalan autonomous government, before physically taking over the administration of Catalonia for a limited period of several months. This will also include taking over TV3 and radio, the Catalan separatist propaganda broadcasting channels.
Crucially, it will also be necessary to decapitate the Catalan police force. Josep Lluís Trapero, chief of the Mossos d’Escuadra reportedly earns 21,500 Euros more than a general of the Guardia Civil – a point not lost on Spain’s national police force who recently marched through Madrid with placards like, “Pay us as much you pay the traitors!”
The Mossos d’Escuadra will be taken over by the Madrid interior ministry at the end of this week, when Trapero is expected to be dismissed from his post. He has already appeared in court on a charge of sedition and has had to surrender his passport to the high court. The important question is, what will the 17,000 mossos do when they find themselves under the command of a civil guard general? If they do not cooperate, the force will be facing up to the thousands of civil guard and national police currently billeted in two cruise ships in Barcelona harbour and various barracks in and around Catalonia. Unofficial reports from the personnel on the cruise ships say they are increasingly angry about being held in these confined conditions for several weeks. When they are let out onto the streets of Barcelona expect a release of energy that makes the police action on 1 October look like a small fight among year 7 pupils on the school football pitch…
Already tensions are running very high between the Catalan police and the thousands of extra security personnel drafted into Catalonia from all over Spain. On 1 October the mossos (it was reported in many places) failed to carry out orders to close polling stations and the national police and guardia were then obliged to do the job later in the day, at great risk.
As the moment nears when the Madrid government imposes control over the mossos, the rupture between the police forces is becoming clear. At Barcelona international airport the three police forces are routinely on duty and see each other every day. They no longer sit together in the canteen. The mossos are seen as the armed force that will protect independence. In an aircraft hangar the elite special operations unit of the civil guard is in place and ready to take physical control of the airport if independence is declared. This makes an uncomfortable picture when you consider the passions running high on both sides of the armed police.
UPDATE 2.30 pm 24/10/17
The debate on the implementation of Article 155 takes place in the upper chamber, the Senate, this week and the timetable for that was announced on Saturday. Carles Puigdemont was invited to go to the Senate and make his contribution, to explain his actions. Since that timetable was drawn up, Puigdemont announced on Monday a plenary session of the Catalan government in which – everyone now expects – a debate will take place on UDI and a declaration may be made on Thursday (or Friday). The Senate has timetable Puigdemont’s opportunity to address them for 5 o’clock on Thursday… !
In the news today, Puigdemont is accusing the Senate of deliberately timetabling his contribution at a time they know he cannot attend. This is the latest piece of Catalan surrealism, possibly based on a Dali painting?
What chicanery from Madrid! Another dastardly deed for the Catalan teachers to chalk up on the board when they are indoctrinating children into the victimhood of their “nation”. The Madrid powers offered Puigdemont the opportunity to defend his actions, but chose a time he couldn’t attend. This is now the story in the news media. My God, the era of fake news becomes absurd by the minute. It is truly surreal.
But I want to return to my main theme in this episode of this week’s running blog: the role of the security forces in what is to come. It has been exactly a month since we watched scenes of civil guard and national police convoys heading out of Spanish cities (with cheering crowds and Spanish flags waving), and apart from a brief and well-earned appearance on the front pages of the world’s press on 1 October, with screaming headlines about “police brutality”, they have been sitting on ships or in barracks for four weeks, waiting to be sent into action to physically stop any further move towards independence. What will this actually involve?
Naturally there is great speculation as to how the take over of Catalan institutions is going to work. The fact that the Madrid government is interpreting Article 155 in such a way that the Catalan parliament is not closed down, but only the Catalan government will be sacked, suggests that there will be no need for a physical struggle to take the parliament building in Plaza San Jaume in Barcelona. A wise move. The crowd control operation could be precarious if that were to happen, as Catalan passions have been cynically and deliberately whipped up by the nationalists to a point where many young people are ready to sit down in front of riot police ready to scream “brutality” when they are removed, and that could eventually lead to serious disorder.
While that hopefully won’t be necessary in Plaza San Jaume, it could occur elsewhere, with the state taking over administration of the Catalan media, and there will probably be plans to guard the main telefonica building (an iconic focus of the barricades in the civil war within the civil war in George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia). The most sensitive aspect of the way Madrid plans to use Article 155 is the take-over of the media: TV3 and Catalan radio stations. This might well involve a call for street protests and possibly a mass demonstration to protect the television and radio stations.
The use of the media and the education system by the independentists to indoctrinate the Catalans will be the subject of my blog post tomorrow, Endgame in la Rambla: Part 3.
I am not in Barcelona, so don’t ask me for updates on what I see on the streets! I am simply distilling the Spanish news into a manageable explanation/interpretation of what is happening. I have my own declared point of view, so don’t expect “balance”!
And in these extraordinary times our local paper today, Información de Alicante has as its main front page photo, our local policia nacional contingent returning home after being relieved following four weeks in Barcelona. Nice cover photo… but an interesting detail in the newspaper story on page 41 (if you trouble to read that far in the local paper): “These eighteen uniformed officers are the first to return, although other plain clothes officers returned earlier in the week.” It’s more than crowd control then… ?
UPDATE 20.00 24/10/17
Antena 3 television news now reporting that civil guards billeted in a hotel in Calella (Costa Brava) have been forced out of their accommodation by a ferocious crowd and have now been moved to chalet accommodation in an out-of-season camping site! The state will have to retake a lot of ground here. It is already looking quite out of control.
PS; take care with the vox populi man-in-the-street interviews, folks… It can get quite out of control.
INTERVIEWER: What do you think of independence?
JORDI-IN-THE-STREET: Well, we have to remind these people what happened in 1258… (blablabla y blablabla…)