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Civil society protests in support of democracy and referendum

Doctors, firefighters, clergy, students and professors all mobilized against recent Spanish actions


22 September 2017 08:16 PM


ACN | Rachel Bathgate

Civil society spoke up on Friday: students, professors, doctors, firefighters, and the clergy have all voiced their support for Catalan institutions, democracy, and the October 1 independence referendum.

Students and professors

The presence of student organizations in the protests in these last few days has already been notable. On Friday, students also occupied the main campus building of the University of Barcelona, while others blocked circulation in one of the busiest streets in the city. All of this, to denounce the Spanish police actions and to support the right to self-determination.

Student-led protests weren’t only seen in the Catalan capital, however. All throughout Catalonia, in other major cities like Girona and Lleida, both students – and teachers – spoke in dissent. Ignasi Aldomá, professor of Geography at the University of Lleida said that “it can’t be” that what the majority of people feel and support receive, as an answer, “political repression” and “police repression,” a response meaning “you don’t exist.”

A warning of criminal charges

This declaration from academic circles also comes against a specific order: for institutions not to encourage or aid participation in October 1 referendum operations. In a letter by Enric Millo, Spanish government delegate in Catalonia, school principals of secondary education institutions were warned that any activity tied to the referendum could incur “criminal” charges. In his letter, Millo justifies this by explaining that as public authorities, they must respect the decisions taken by the Spanish Constitutional Court. Even “tacit” cooperation with referendum activity – like allowing school buildings to be used for the October 1 vote - could lead to the charges of breach of official duty, misappropriation of funds, or disobedience. 

  • "It can’t be that what’s felt and supported by the majority elicit police and political repression, a response saying 'you don’t exist.'"

    Ignasi Aldomá · Ignasi Aldomá, professor of Geography at the University of Lleida

Healthcare professionals and unions

Members of the healthcare industry stood in protest on Friday as well. Gathering in hospitals and health centers of the Public service of the Catalan Health Institute (ICS) across Catalonia, these protests were organized by the union IAC, with the presence of various other unions and their alliances. Unions also stated that in case of a potential general strike, previsions had been made. The spokesperson for the Doctors of Catalonia Union, Albert Molins, expressed concern over the problems that “will not be solved if it’s not known what people want.” He further compared the current solution of prosecuting people and shutting down websites to tactics in some Eastern European governments seen some years ago.  

The Catalan clergy

In a printed statement, the Catalan clergy voiced their support of the right to choose the country’s future. More than 300 priests and deacons, among others, signed a manifesto called the ‘Declaration on the Referendum on Self-Determination,’ in which they uphold the “fundamental right that every person has” to choose, which they deem “legitimate and necessary.” They explained that behind their statement are “evangelical and humanistic values” as well as a “sincere love of the people.” Among the signatories are Jesuits, Claretian, Escapists, Franciscans, Capuchins, Salesians and monks of Montserrat and Solius.

Firefighters in uniform

Among those who joined in the Friday protests were firefighters from all over Catalonia. Some of those who could not join in the demonstration wrote pro-referendum slogans on their trucks and drove by the City of Justice courts where the protests were held, some waving the Catalan flag out the window. Those who could attend wore their helmets and shirts denoting what unit or city they belonged to. 


  • Students protest at the University of Lleida on September 22

  • Students protest at the University of Lleida on September 22