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Predictable but still a source of disbelief

As the National Police arrived at polling stations in Catalonia, voters were surprised to find the law being enforced

National Police officers remove members of the public from the Jaume Balmes school in Barcelona.
National Police officers remove members of the public from the Jaume Balmes school in Barcelona.Samuel Sanchez

The most mystifying thing about the referendum yesterday was that people were saying, “This is incredible” as National Police and civil guards arrived in droves to enforce the law, barging their way into polling stations and confiscating ballot boxes.

This incredulity had a lot to do with the fact that their pro-independence politicians had convinced them that they were doing nothing wrong, despite the fact that their actions were subversive and illegal in the eyes of Spain’s Constitutional Court.

A violent response to an act as noble and innocent as the one the voters were involved in was inconceivable

Sheltered from the rain along with 300 others by the roof of the Jaume Balmes high school in Barcelona, it was hard to imagine the police behaving in such a manner. A violent response to an act as noble and innocent as the one the voters were involved in was inconceivable.

Lulled by a false sense of security, the crowd fell silent at 7.30am as the street lamps went out and a black Citroen emerged out of the darkness. On cue, they made way for two young men who got out of the car carrying a ballot box concealed inside a trash bag. There was something almost religious about it, as though these youngsters were the trustees of the Holy Grail.

People in the crowd clapped and the excitement was palpable, though there were those trying to keep the noise down as though silence would be enough to mask their act of defiance. They were like children, who had been given license to what they liked by the authorities, despite the fact they were playing with fire.

Anyone would have thought that aliens had descended on the neighborhood, though some knew full well the police would come

But their false sense of impunity didn’t last long. An hour later, the National Police rolled up and, within 10 minutes, the ballot box was gone. It was a rude awakening and though the police raid may have seemed surreal, in truth it was no more so than what had gone before. The crowd was aghast. “All night waiting here for this…” said one man, clearly disappointed as though it was far from what he deserved.

At the Els Horts primary school in the suburb of La Verneda, there was even more incredulity as at least 150 police descended. For a full hour, people shouted insults and there were angry confrontations, prompting reinforcements. Anyone would have thought that aliens had descended on the neighborhood, though some knew full well the police would come – would even have been disappointed if this surreal situation had been reduced to the mundane. Arguments broke out among the crowd, though dissenters made sure they kept to the edges. In these circumstances, dissent was also a source of incredulity.

A woman exclaimed: “This is democracy!” To which the man angrily retorted, “Yes, madam, this is democracy!”

Meanwhile, in the neighborhood of Sant Martí in Barcelona, the following cryptic exchange took place between an elderly man and woman. As a police car came into view, the woman exclaimed: “This is democracy!” To which the man angrily retorted, “Yes, madam, this is democracy!”

Although they were uttering the same phrase, it was hard to know who was in favor of what.

Then an avalanche of images showing bloodied faces and policemen dragging people around by the hair hit social networks. It wasn’t normal but nor was it incredible. There were politicians who knew this would happen. The Spanish State came off as the bad guys, which is when things get ugly. “Hem guanyat!” shouted the crowd as the police withdrew – we have won!

English version by Heather Galloway.

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