© 2024 WKNO FM
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Catalonia Readies For Sunday's Independence Vote


Volunteers are preparing ballot boxes today in Catalonia. That's the northeast region of Spain which votes tomorrow on whether to demand more autonomy from Madrid or break away and form a new country in Europe, but the vote is largely symbolic. Spain has declared the whole process illegal. Catalans now are nevertheless trying to boost turnout.

From the Catalan capital, Barcelona, Lauren Frayer reports.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Less than a day before voting begins, volunteers like Maria Medina Roca huddled in a call center in downtown Barcelona, phoning residents of Catalonia to encourage them to vote.

MARIA MEDINA ROCA: We are informing about the places where people can go and vote this Sunday. The most important thing is that people get the necessary information to decide because it's the only way of letting us know - what do we feel like, what do we want and where do we want to go?

FRAYER: The ballots are printed with two questions; do you want Catalonia to be a state? If so do you want that state to be independent? So Catalans are voting on more autonomy within Spain and also on whether to break away and form a new country altogether. Downtown Barcelona's been transformed into a massive get-out-the-vote rally, speeches in the Catalan language, concerts of traditional Catalan folk songs.

Anna Segura is one of many here who've draped themselves in Catalan flags.

ANNA SEGURA: The atmosphere is - I think it's amazing and different from other demonstrations. There's a lot of different people from different ages and I think it's incredible.

FRAYER: Incredible it may be, but this vote is also illegal according to the Spanish government. Miquel Strubell, a retired university professor, says there's little Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy can do to stop this vote, short of using force and that would look pretty bad in a democracy, he says.

MIQUEL STRUBELL: We would love to have pictures of the Spanish police marching in there to withdraw the ballot boxes. I think Rajoy is shrewd enough to realize that that will be disastrous.

FRAYER: The results of this vote could be used to negotiate more autonomy from Madrid, if not independence, but despite all the Catalan flags decking Barcelona's balconies, opinion polls suggest Catalans are roughly divided 50-50, just like Scots were before they ultimately voted in September to stay in the U.K. High turnout will be key if this vote is to reflect Catalonia's wishes, but that's tough when the results are nonbinding, says historian Enric Ucelay.

ENRIC UCELAY: Only militant opinion will vote. What clinched the Scots' situation was that you had over 85 percent participation so how are you going to get the people who are not mobilized to vote when it's nonbinding anyway?

FRAYER: That will be the challenge for Catalans, many of whom have waited a lifetime to vote on independence. Back at the phone bank, volunteer Maria Medina Roca is making eleventh hour calls.

ROCA: There are people that are really grateful for this call and people who are really not, but that's how it works (laughter).

FRAYER: Results from Catalonia's nonbinding poll are expected late tomorrow.

For NPR News I'm Lauren Frayer in Barcelona. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.