Of bludgeons and ballots: Swiss media react to Catalan vote

Stand-off: national police and Catalan separatists came face to face yesterday. Keystone

After a dramatic day in Catalonia, almost all Swiss newspapers on Monday carried front-page stories about the contentious vote. Condemnation of violence and worries about the safeguarding of democratic values were the prevailing themes.

This content was published on October 2, 2017 - 10:49 and agencies

“The play was almost scripted in advance”, read a fatalistic Le Temps piece. The will of large numbers of Catalans to vote on their future status, the refusal of the central government to sanction the vote, the influx of extra security forces – it could only end badly.

And, indeed, the paper said, voting stations became, “one after another, trenches where two conceptions of democracy faced off.” It was a “sad day for democracy in the country”, and a day for which both the Catalan and Spanish authorities must take responsibility, it said.

This fatality and dual-responsibility was also highlighted by another major French-language paper, the Tribune de Genève, which noted that the heavy-handed reaction of Mariano Rajoy’s government was inevitable – anything else would have provoked chain-reactions across the country, its editorial said.

Ultimately, however, October 1 will go down in history as a day of failure for both the prime minister and separatist chief Carlos Puigdemont. Through their “intransigence and brinksmanship”, the paper said, “both carry a heavy responsibility for this dangerous fiasco”.

Violence benefits separatists

Tabloid Blick took a harder line against the police violence. “Spain bludgeons democracy”, shouted its front page, next to a large photo of policemen standing in riot gear over a fallen protestor.

“The disgraceful scenes will have unforeseeable consequences,” the paper wrote in its editorial. “Stamping on ballot boxes, beating citizens who want to vote – in a cultivated country in Europe!”

Its opinion is that the outcome will swing more support for the separatist cause. “People who until now were undecided won’t have to think too hard; even many opponents of separation will change sides,” it said.

The Tages-Anzeiger in Zurich and its sister publication Der Bund in Bern agreed that the harsh reaction to the vote will, therefore, only benefit the supporters of independence. “No political adviser could have written a better script for the Catalan cause,” said the papers.

Contrasting the vivid images of helmeted and truncheon-wielding Guardia Civil officers with the “happy people chanting ‘we will vote’ as they threw their folded pieces of paper into ballot boxes”, the papers said that Spain has not won any sympathy abroad for its “totally disproportionate response to an expression of political will”.

How many Catalans actually want independence is unknown, the editorial said, after the courts, government, and police blocked the ballots. But pressure on Madrid has not decreased. “The blocked referendum result has simply extended the timescale for an amicable solution – if that still even exists."

Swiss reactions to Catalonia

In the image of European figures like Jeremy Corbyn and Belgian prime minister Charles Michel, some Swiss politicians also took to the roiling waves of social media yesterday to react to the events in Spain.

Some were less than impartial. Christian Levrat, president of the Social Democratic Party, said that although opinions could be divided on the issue, “Spain nevertheless deserves better than this government of deplorable idiocy. It’s shameful”.

Natalie Rickli, who sits in the House of Representatives for the conservative right Swiss People’s Party, said that it is “incredible and shocking what is happening in Spain. Accepting referendums is central to retaining peace”.

Meanwhile, Christian Wasserfall of the centre right Radical Party put the focus on the EU in Brussels, which has thus far been quiet about the contentious vote. “In Catalonia, democracy is trampled underfoot. What does the EU actually say? Nothing. It’s a disgrace!”

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