In Catalonia Independence Push, Policing Becomes Politicized

 In World

Accusations of Francoism, sedition and insubordination are flying. Old wounds and recriminations between the forces dating to the Spanish Civil War are opening. Even firefighters and military police officers appear to be picking sides.

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Thousands of citizens gathered in Barcelona on Tuesday during a general strike to protest the violence that marred Catalonia’s independence referendum.

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David Ramos/Getty Images

In short, policing has become the most politicized job in Spain.

“The police is the same as the time of Franco, only they had horses back then,” said Carme Adzerias, a 58-year-old painter who was buying cigarettes in a tobacco shop across the street from the national Police Headquarters in Barcelona, where thousands protested on Wednesday.

The anger is a direct response to the actions of the national police in riot gear on Oct. 1. The government in Madrid sent the troops to defend the integrity of Spanish democracy, but the violence against peaceful residents had the effect of turning the story into one about the harsh crackdown on voting rights rather than the suppression of radical secessionists.

Television cameras and social media accounts showed officers stomping on voters with their boots, pounding them with truncheons and dragging them out of polling places. In contrast, the Mossos d’Esquadra, which was responsible for public order and had instructions to stop the vote and keep people out of polling stations, essentially stood down.

In the fallout, Catalonia’s police chief, Maj. Josep Lluís Trapero, appeared on Friday in the national court in Madrid to face accusations of sedition. He denied he had refused to assist the national police and blamed his force’s response on poor communication, according to a statement by the Mossos d’Esquadra, which only months ago was hailed across Spain for gunning down the suspect in a terrorist attack that killed 14 people in the Barcelona area.

Also on Friday, Enric Millo, the Spanish government’s representative in Catalonia, apologized for any injuries suffered at the hands of the national police. The apology does not seem to have been accepted.

Angry residents have insulted the children of officers. Police forces brought in from across Spain found their hotels surrounded by angry residents who protested loudly and forced the officers, some of whom responded by spitting out the window, to find other accommodations apart from population centers.

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Carles Puigdemont, Catalonia’s leader, has said the region will soon declare its independence from Spain.

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Lluis Gene/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The poisonous atmosphere has led national police officers to hole up behind thick walls and barbed wire in towns like this one, or to retreat to a cruise boat, incongruously plastered with cartoon images of Looney Tunes characters, moored in the auto terminal of the Barcelona port.

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