Spanish State was afraid of a “Catalan Maidan”

Catalan MonitorNews Roundup

ERC Secretary General Marta Rovira has opened up about internal government communications to emphasize that the Catalan government decided not to follow through with the implementation and defense of the declaration of an independent Republic on the 27th of October to avoid a violent response from the Spanish state “with firearms”.

It is suspected that the source of this worry might be a report on the situation in Catalonia after October 1st, published on October 23rd, by The Royal Elcano Institute, a frequent consultee of the Spanish State, with a board of directors chaired by King Philip VI, including ex Spanish Presidents and Ministers of Defense, and the Exterior, and Aliens. This report, intended for an audience  of geostrategic decision makers also noted that the government did not have effective control of the Catalan territory, and that the possibility of a Catalan Maidan [a reference to the ‘Euromaidan’ protests which turned violent in the Ukraine in 2014], could not be excluded as a possible turn of events in Catalonia.

The unfolding of a Maidan-esque series of events, would have seemed plausible to the Catalan government at the time this report was published, given the temporary stationing of 10,000 Spanish police officers in Catalonia, their unusually violent action on the referendum day, the mobilization of Army operational troops in Catalonia and even the supposedly Catalonia-motivated training of the Navy’s infantry for riot-related operations. The Catalan government said “we were told that the police and the Civil Guard would be exchanged for the army, and that this time the bullets they would fire would not just be rubber ones”.


Photo: The board of the Instituto Elcano, with the Spanish king, the ex-Spanish Presidents Aznar and Gonzàlez, and the ministers of Education, Defense and Foreign Affairs (Photo credit: Elcano)

The Report

The report, called “The Catalan Independence bid: How did we get here? What is the European dimension? What next? “, is intended to give provide context, for understanding the Catalan situation according to a very Spanish vision, after the October referendum took place. A demographic, historical, political and social study that even asserts [falsely] that Spanish is majority language in Catalonia and is most commonly used.

The report states that the factors which explain independence are TV3 (Catalan TV news and information channel), the Catalan school system, the economic crisis, the Statute [the constitutional agreement which forms the basis and terms of Catalan autonomy], the distrust between the Spanish State and Catalan nationalists, the populism of UKIP and the Lega Nord (British and Italian nationalist parties), mobilizations of civil society that have “fed back into the polarization by nationalist elites” and the Scottish case.

Scotland – Catalonia

Indeed, the Elcano Institute goes on to closely examine the differences between Catalonia and Scotland. In fact, an entire section is dedicated to this topic. First of all, it states that unlike Scotland, which is one of the “most pro-European territories in the United Kingdom, Catalonia is one of the least enthusiastic autonomous communities.” As a second difference, Elcano asserts that there is a more cohesive Scottish national identity, whereas in Catalonia there is a “high potential of conflict between social groups in Catalonia, where the Catalan and Spanish national projects compete on the basis of of language and identity”. “The development of the increasingly radical pro-independence sector has been slow, but it is in turn progressively mobilizing an anti-independent sector of Catalan society,” the report adds.

Among other differences with Scotland, the state think tank suggests that the Catalan process is a “rebellion of the rich” because “Catalan nationalism has more support among those of a high income” and because “Catalonia is one of the richest regions in Spain”. “The high earners are independentists,” it concludes. The last difference highlighted in the report, was that urban populations in Scotland tend to be more pro-independence, a phenomenon in contrast to what, according to Elcano, happens in Catalonia. And the report goes on to state, critically, that unlike the United Kingdom and Scotland, “without Catalonia, the Spanish national project would fail”.


“Maidan” and Kosovo, the precedents

According to the report, the referendum was not the best solution because it is “up for debate” that it is “the right instrument to resolve such a complex and divisive controversy”. In addition, the report states that independentism “does not have effective control of the territory” and “therefore, it is not necessary to worry for the territorial integrity of Spain.” However, Elcano admitted, on October 23, that there was concern that a “Catalan Maidan” could be triggered.

Peculiarly, the English version of the report is more concise but includes the reference to the possibility of a “Maidan Català”, given the street demonstrations. But in the Spanish version, it goes deeply into a comparison between Catalonia after October 1st and the Ukraine and Kosovo. “Far from the Scottish reference, the Catalan independence process seeks precedent in other non-comparable models, such as Kosovo and Ukraine. In the latter case, independentism has tried to legitimize the possibility of strong demonstrations in the streets using the ‘Maidan’ label despite the disturbing comparison (violence) and the obvious differences,” the report asserts.

Photo: The part of the report which refers to the Catalan “Maidan” (Photo: Elcano)


The “Maidan riots” which refers the riots between the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014 in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, between pro-Russian and pro-EU Ukrainians, which resulted in one hundred deaths, is an event which was part of the annexation of the Crimea to Russia, and an essentially silenced conflict which continues to fester. The report is quick to differentiate the regime of the then Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych with the current Spanish administration and stresses that in Ukraine the “protests were really bottom-up whereas the Catalan case is one of institutionalized civil disobedience by the Government with the support on the street of civil society entities linked to the Government”.

Switch the Civil Guard and the National Police for the Army

The threats of State violence denounced by Rovira have also been ratified by the President of the Generalitat, Carles Puigdemont, now in exile in Brussels; by deputies of the CUP, Mireia Boya and Carles Riera, as well as by the deputy of Junts Pel Sí, Magda Casamitjana, who was present in many of the meetings prior to October 27th. Only Rafael Ribó, the Catalan Ombudsman, who also participated in the decisive two day meeting with the Catalan Government and the so-called “head” of the referendum, has clarified the threats. According to Ribó, he was only warned of a “forceful response” by the State and at no time was there any reference to potential deaths.

Sources from the meetings do agree in speaking to El Món, that one of the most repeated phrases in these meetings was that they “have warned us that they will switch the police and the Civil Guard for the Army.”  The words of the Chief of Staff of Defense, General Fernando Alejandre Martínez, on November 2, warned that the Catalan crisis is “the greatest challenge” to Spanish democracy and insisted that the Armed Forces know how to defend “our Nation” and warned that “let there be no doubt. We are always prepared, when we are called upon, to respond to threats to our nation.”

This warning may have divided the Government, but the events occurring and the information they continued receiving could have supported the possibility [of violence]. Firstly, the displacement of 10,000 Spanish police officers and the Guardia Civil to Catalonia for the October 1st operation which continued once article 155 was put in place.  Secondly, the presence of the infamous “botijo ​​truck”, a mobile water cannon which according to the manufacturer, the Israeli company Beit Alpha Technologies, is more injurious than rubber bullets. Thirdly, the Police forces who acted with unusual violence on the referendum day. These were all actions which members of pro-independence institutions could have considered a warning or threat around what was to come.”

Photo: Isla Minima troops (Photo credit: Spanish Army)

Military Activity

In addition, Palau (Spanish Government) sources indicated an increase in the institutional activity of the armed forces in Catalonia and the flow of information on various maneuvers in Catalan territory, which the Ministry of Defense press officers rushed to describe as normal. Curiously, the Army tested the new Multi-Purpose Operating Brigade system in June, specifically with all the units destined for Catalonia. The operation was baptized “Operation Minimal Island”, and the first time its full complement of operatives was put into action was in Catalonia (Barcelona and Sant Climent Sescebes) and it also absorbed all the troops from the Barcelona battalion, called the Brigada Aragón (Aragon Brigade). Some maneuvers mobilized up to 2,300 troops in Zaragoza and Sabiñánigo, for example, at the Training Center of Sant Gregori. On June 22, the Brigadier General of Brigade responsible for the Aragon Brigade, José Luis Sánchez Martínez Falero, visited Barcelona, where he explained the general arrangement of the units, their operational capacity, and infrastructure.

As autumn was approaching, the activity increased near Catalonia. A detail that did not go unnoticed was the setting up, on September 7, of the Santa Eulalia military installations in Sant Boi del Llobregat, a military facility that has been revitalized as a military logistics platform and where Spanish police forces were later billeted.

On the other hand, one of the most seen and heard operations was Operation First Armor II / 17, which took place between October 28 and November 6, casually, whilst tensions were flaring as to how the application of the declaration of the Republic would evolve and how the application of article 155 would play out. Many citizens ended up sharing the road network to Zaragoza with 1,200 troops and 300 military vehicles – including tanks, armored combat vehicles, from the powerful Brigade Guadarrama XII El Goloso de Madrid. The Ministry of Defense insisted that some of these maneuvers had been planned as part of  the 2017 Annual Preparation Plan, which was decided upon in the second half of 2016.

Photo of the First Armor Exercise (Photo by Spanish Army)

Also in San Gregori, on November 4, another spectacular deployment was undertaken. The Brigada Galicia VII – Airborne Light Infantry Brigade (BRILAT), for the 2017 Grouped Linaje exercise, or Lagex 17, included around 2350 troops and 400 vehicles from 13 different operational units of the armed forces. With the [English language] motto “Train to be miserable” they were executing “offensive, defensive and stabilization actions”.

In parallel, on the 27th and 28th of September – a meeting of all the highest commanders of the telecommunications of the Army was held in Barcelona. A coordination meeting headed by Joaquin Salas, the General in charge of the Provision of Information, Telecommunications and Technical Assistance to the Army.

On October 17, the Minister of Defense, Dolores de Cospedal, held a meeting in Catalonia accompanied by the Chief of Staff of the Land Army, Francisco Varela, at the Álvarez de Castro de Sant Climent base, where the Badajoz Mechanized Infantry Battalion 1/62 is based, which in the month of March, received around one hundred Pizarro Infantry Combat vehicles (VCI) and Armored tanks (TOA).

And one of the most shocking photos was that of the elite corps of the Spanish Navy, the Marine Infantry training as an anti-riot force, as part of its preparation for missions where they must cooperate with security forces. It was called the “FTX FIM 17” exercise of the Navy Infantry Force (FIM) and it took place between 20 and 25 October, with 1,300 Infantrymen and 170 vehicles. As part of their training they had to prepare for crowd control, anti-riot and protection of critical infrastructures.

Original Text:

Summary Post in English, on the Elcano Institute report: