Catalonia is holding an independence referendum today. The national Spanish government has declared this an illegal and/or unconstitutional political act.
Spain’s democratic constitution of 1978, which was approved by more than 90% of Catalan voters, gave wide autonomy to the regions but affirmed “the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation”. Only the Spanish parliament can change the constitution. Mr Puigdemont’s referendum is therefore illegal, and Mariano Rajoy, Spain’s conservative prime minister, is determined to prevent it taking place.
Spanish riot police burst into polling stations across Catalonia on Sunday, confiscating ballot boxes and voting papers to try to halt a banned referendum on a split from Spain as Madrid asserted its authority over the rebel region.
Police broke down doors to force entry into voting stations as defiant Catalans shouted “Out with the occupying forces!” and sang the anthem of the wealthy northeastern region. In one incident in Barcelona, police fired rubber projectiles.
Catalan officials said 337 people had been injured in the police crackdown. Officers in riot gear hit people with batons and forcibly removed would-be voters, including women and the elderly, from polling stations.
The ballot will have no legal status as it has been blocked by Spain’s Constitutional Court and Madrid for being at odds with the 1978 constitution.
Here’s what things look like on the ground.
— Rubén Castillo M. (@Ruben_CastilloM) October 1, 2017
— The Telegraph (@Telegraph) October 1, 2017
And the ugly:
— ABC News (@ABC) October 1, 2017
The Spanish news media, however, has noticed an unfortunate trend playing out in regard to the independence referendum regardless of one’s views on Catalonia and whether it should be independent, how far back the desire for independence goes, or how many Catalonians (around 40% by polling) favor independence. From El Pais:
The Russian meddling machine has intensified its efforts on social media to deepen divisiveness in the final hours before the Catalan independence referendum of Sunday. Pro-Kremlin Twitter accounts increased their mentions of the Catalan crisis by 2,000%, according to social conversation analysis tools. The attempt to hold an independence referendum has gotten star treatment not only in channels directly funded by the Russian government, but also from accounts that trade in conspiracy theories and helped Donald Trump become the US president.
The 2,000% increase in Catalonia-related online activity in Russia detected by the tool Hamilton 68, not only involves anonymous accounts, but also a sudden interest in this crisis by famous social media users from the US, including Jack Posobiec, a far-right agitator who has been retweeted by Trump himself. These past couple of days Posobiec has shared links about the measures taken to prevent the vote in Catalonia.
Accordingly, Assange has intensified efforts to make the Catalan crisis a global trend on social networks, always from his particular point of view. On Friday, he accused Spain and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of having triggered the first world war through Internet censorship. His message was shared 14,000 times on Twitter. Before the Civil Guard took action to prevent an electronic vote tally, Assange himself also recommended via Twitter sending in the ballots via Telegram, an application developed by a company based in Russia.
And while El Pais reported that InfoWars and Drudge had gotten into the action, The Sydney Morning Herald has found that the top influencers, the key nodes, in the social media campaign for Catalonian independence are Assange and Snowden. Quickly followed by Wikileaks and RT.
— Casey Michel (@cjcmichel) September 26, 2017
El Pais has also reported that the hosting for the independence movements website is in Russia and it is being supported by Russian hackers.
However, now that judicial authorities have blocked logistical preparations for the vote, pro-independence forces have only been left with the support of hackers to maintain websites containing the electoral roll and and information on where to vote.
In fact, according to Spain’s Civil Guard, a group of hackers based in Russia and satellite countries is permanently creating new links in order to have so many copies of the census site that it will be impossible for the Spanish judiciary and police to shut them down.
In terms of digital technology, pro-independence forces face two serious obstacles: any website based in the European Union is liable to be shut down by authorities relatively quickly, and any hacker that operates within EU territory could be accused of a crime. This is why those in favor of independence for Catalonia are using computer programmers based in Russia, which has no legal agreements with the EU when it comes to digital legislation.
While Assange’s activities in regard to Catalonian independence have gotten him into some trouble with his hosts, the real question here is who benefits by doing this? And by doing it now? It certainly isn’t going to be the Catalonians, especially the 40% of Catalonians that support independence and will turn out to vote for it today. Their actions are making them subject to arrest or, based on the video clips up top, extra-judicial suppression by Spanish police attempting to stop the referendum. It certainly isn’t Spain which is going to have to deal with a prolonged challenged to its political integrity and cohesion. Nor is it going to be the EU which will be dealing with yet another challenge within one of its southern members. Given all the social network analysis of the social media landscape surrounding the Catalonian independence referendum and the fact that the independence movement moved its servers to Russia, it would appear that Putin’s Maskirovka has once again slipped. The game was given away by who the social media players were. At this point the only state that seems to benefit from increased civil, political, and social disorder in Spain and the EU is Russia.