Catalonia’s police have an impressive reputation but, according to one officer, the culture within is undeniably pro-independence and increasingly “political”. After 20 years, this officer-- who opposes secession-- says she wants to resign.
After the deadly Barcelona attacks on August 17, all eyes were on the Mossos d’Esquadra (literally "the Squad Lads"), the autonomous police force of Catalonia. They were the first responders on the scene after a 22-year-old attacker drove a van down La Rambla, a packed pedestrian street, instantly killing 13. The Mossos brought help to the injured, secured the site of the attack and, in the following days, led the hunt for the fugitive attacker. Many saw this regional force as true heroes.
When the Spanish government demanded a clampdown on the Catalan referendum on independence, it put many Mossos officers in a tough spot. They were torn between their loyalty to the Catalan government and their responsibility to uphold Spanish law. In some cases, they were torn between personal support for the independence movement and the job of preventing an unauthorised vote. Ultimately, on the day of the referendum, the Mossos did not join in as Spanish national police attempted to disperse voters and seize ballot boxes by force on election day-- actions that resulted in hundreds being injured.
Now, several key figures in Mossos stand accused of sedition, while the representative of the Spanish government in Catalonia has offered an official apology for the way Catalonians were treated in what he still maintains was an “illegal vote.”
After spending 21 years in the Mossos, one 48-year-old policewoman says she's grown weary of the overwhelmingly separatist culture within the force. The officer, who prefers to remain anonymous, told FRANCE 24 about how this culture developed and why she no longer sees a place for herself in the Mossos.
FRANCE 24: The Spanish national police have been criticised for their violent and repressive attempts to thwart the independence referendum. The Mossos d’Esquadra, on the other hand, chose not to participate in actions to prevent the referendum. The path of nonviolence they forged seems commendable. Do you agree?
It’s clear that the nationalist cause got a little boost from the wide circulation of the videos showing police violence on the day of the referendum. The footage shows Spanish national police using weapons. However, it’s important to understand what happened outside of the frame.
On Sunday, October 1, the Mossos called for help from the national police and the Guardia Civil (regional forces from elsewhere in Spain) because they couldn’t enter polling places. So, the national police intervened. During this time, the Mossos remained on the sidelines while everyone was busy filming. So, no, the Mossos aren’t peaceful police. In reality, they are more like traitors. We didn’t do our job. We didn’t enforce the rule of law.
FRANCE 24: And yet, the day after the referendum, when student protesters gathered near the vehicles of the national police to protest police violence, the Mossos intervened to avoid any altercations.
That time, the Mossos were just doing their job to provide protection. Everything depends on the orders given by superiors. We are just the ones who have to implement the orders our superiors give us over the radio. Sometimes, we are told to respect the law. Sometimes, we are told the contrary. But they never give us directions like that in writing.
FRANCE 24: How do you explain these orders?
To truly understand why the Mossos didn’t act on October 1, you need to go back in time a bit. There’s a photo from August 2016 that shows Catalonia’s police chief Josep Lluis Trapero [Editor’s note: Trapero, who is accused of sedition, appeared before a judge in a national criminal court in Madrid on Friday, October 6] at a party organised by Pilar Rahola, a former deputy from the Catalan nationalist party, the Republican Left of Catalonia (the ERC). Current Catalan President Carles Puigdemont was among the guests, as were several other key political figures.
Since then, an omnipresent nationalist sentiment has blossomed within the Mossos, which have transformed into political police. Last July, the director of the Mossos, Albert Batlle-- who had a reputation for being moderate, was forced to resign, only to be replaced by a radical secessionist, Pere Soler. As soon as Soler took office, he stated that the priority was to protect citizens who wanted to make the referendum a democratic act.
FRANCE 24: What is the working atmosphere like within the Mossos?
Even just daily work is very difficult because the Mossos are divided over the question of independence. In Barcelona, about 60%, like me, respect Spanish law and about 40% are for Catalan independence. In the city of Girona, it’s more like 10% versus 90%. So tensions are running high.
Secessionists think that Spain is a “cancer” to Catalonia. My boss called me a “coloniser” because my parents are from Madrid and he doesn’t think that I’ve integrated enough because I don’t speak Catalan. Within the Mossos, there is a palpable hate for Spaniards, just like there is in the rest of Catalan society.
The hardest thing is that these independence supporters within the Mossos speak freely on social media, insulting unionists [Editor’s note: Label used by independence movement supporters directed at those who want to maintain Spain as a single, united national state] and criticising the political parties that don’t share their opinion. But no one says a word about it. Yet, when someone who is against independence shares his or her opinion, that person is immediately sanctioned.
FRANCE 24: What has your experience been?
Back in January, my mother wrote comments on my Facebook wall defending Spain’s territorial integrity and insulting Carles Puigdemont. I was suspended as a result of those comments. I tried to defend myself by saying that I wasn’t the one who had written it and that, moveover, they were posted outside of working hours.
But it was too late. The press had already picked up the story, so I was suspended and my salary was frozen for several months. I was transferred to a new post about 140 kilometres from my home. Later, I was moved to one a bit closer but that doesn’t change the fact that this punishment was both disproportionate and unjust. Add to the equation that I’m a single mother.
Today, I am just hoping for one thing: that the Mossos will be integrated into the Guardia Civil or the national police. I’m not the only one who wishes that. To build a career within the Mossos, you need to be a nationalist. There’s no future here for me. I want to be treated based on the quality of my work and not for my political opinions.
Date created : 2017-10-07