Catalonia’s highly controversial referendum on independence this Sunday is either a vote for “democratic principles” or a “charade” that’s nothing more than an opportunity to throw a street party.
Depends on whom you ask.
“This is not about independence of Catalonia,” Raul Romeva, Catalonia’s foreign affairs councillor told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour from Barcelona. “It is basically [about] how the Catalonians decide its future.”
Catalonia, one of 17 autonomous Spanish provinces, has insisted it will go ahead with what it calls a binding resolution, despite a decision by Spain’s highest court banning the vote, saying it violates the country’s constitution. Madrid insists that only the national Parliament can determine issues of sovereignty.
“We don’t want a part to decide for the whole,” Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis told Amanpour from Madrid, dismissing the idea that the vote is about “some romantic right to decide.”
“Spain is a democracy, but it’s also a law-abiding country.”
Catalonian nationalists argue their industrial province subsidizes the rest of Spain’s economy, and that their unique culture and language warrant an independent state.
“We have to make it clear that there will not be a referendum,” said Dastis. “So it’s going to be – I don’t know, some kind of, we hope, festive atmosphere. People will demonstrate and show what they think about this situation. And then we hope that everything will be calm, that there will be no violence.”
The central government has not been shy about enforcing its point of view. State police have seized ballots, signs and paperwork. Three ships housing police are moored at Barcelona’s dock, and the police are ready to be deployed.
Romeva decried those as “repressive measures,” and said the Catalan government just wants to be able to negotiate with Madrid on equal footing.
“We have 7,000 police officers simply waiting to impede the referendum to happen,” he said.
Amanpour asked Dastis whether violence will “be on your head?”
He called the response “proportionate and rational,” and said the security forces were “simply applying what the courts ordered them to do,” which in turn were “simply applying the law.”
Both sides told Amanpour they’re ready to talk, but the divide over the referendum’s legality has seemingly produced a wide gulf.
“We can negotiate from their proposal and our proposal,” Romeva said. “But we need them to be at a negotiating table to talk. … They have never wanted to do so.”
Madrid is “more than ready to talk,” said Dastis, once the Catalan regional government stops “this charade of a referendum.”
Madrid’s security measures may end up benefiting the nationalists, at least politically. Catalonians are getting “more and more” frustrated, Romeva said.
His boss, Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, has said he will declare independence within 48 hours if “yes” wins, Reuters reported.
His government is ready to accept a “no” vote, said Romeva, and Madrid should likewise accept a vote in favor of independence.
“We want to build in Catalonia a modern state – a modern state that will be open, negotiating with everyone, with Spain, with France, with the rest of the European Union. An open state. An inclusive state. This is what we want to have.”
Dastis said Madrid is ready “to talk to all those people that comply with the rule of law and follow democratic procedures.”
This story has been updated to clarifying the sourcing on a statement by Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont.
CNN’s Lauren Said-Moorhouse contributed to this report.