Two days after the scenes of police violence against voters were broadcast around the world, King Felipe addressed the country on television to accuse the Catalan authorities of attempting to break “the unity of Spain”. He warned that their push for independence could risk the country’s social and economic stability.
Felipe described Catalan society as “fractured” but he said Spain would remain united.
He spoke after the regional government’s unilateral independence referendum, seated in front of a portrait of Charles III, Felipe’s Bourbon ancestor who imposed the Spanish (Castillian) language at the expense of Catalan in the education system in 1768.
He said the Catalan government’s behaviour had “eroded the harmony and co-existence within Catalan society itself, managing, unfortunately, to divide it”. Mariano Rajoy’s government had argued the referendum means to “destroy and annihilate the constitution” and that it is “typical of an autocratic regime”.
The king made no mention of the violence that marred the referendum when Spanish police officers raided polling stations, gratuitously beat voters and fired rubber bullets at crowds, recalling the Spain of dictator Francisco Franco.
90% of participating voters opted to secede from Spain, though in July, a public survey commissioned by the Catalan government suggested 41% of Catalans were in favour of independence and 49% were opposed. But royalty, like kings and queens everywhere, and in this case like the body politic in Spain generally, has a tin-ear to dissent.