Spanish navy forces Catalan fishing trawlers to fly Spanish flag

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  By a Newsnet reporter

A Spanish navy patrol vessel, identified as the Alborán, has detained fishing trawlers from the port of Roses in Girona province in the north of Catalonia and prevented those not flying the Spanish flag from proceeding out into the Mediterranean. 

The navy vessel set itself in the mouth of the port and blocked the exit of all vessels which did not prominently display the Spanish flag.

Local fishing boats habitually display only the Catalan flag, la Senyera.  Witnesses state that this is the first time they have seen a Spanish navy vessel imposing controls on the fishing fleet, which is usually supervised by inspectors from the Ministry of Agriculture on board coastal patrols of the Guardia Civil.  However according to reports, on this occasion the inspectors from the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture were on board the navy vessel.  

A number of workers in the port say that the captain of the Alborán was heard to tell the agriculture inspectors to instruct the fishing boats to: “Raise the flag, ours, the national flag.”  Crew members of the naval vessel then shouted the same order directly to the fishing fleet.  Only those which complied with the order were allowed to leave the port.

According to Spanish marine law, the Spanish flag must be clearly visible from all vessels.  If a Spanish registered vessel flies another flag, such as the Catalan or Basque flag, the Spanish flag must be bigger and more prominent.  However until now this rule has not been enforced.  The enforcement of the flag rule has caused outrage in Catalonia, where the Spanish flag is rarely seen apart from government buildings, and where Madrid’s condemnation of the planned independence referendum is increasingly shrill.  

Many Catalan supporters of independence feel threatened by recent remarks by Spanish government officials and politicians and feelings are running high.  Certain high ranking members of the Partido Popular have called for the criminalisation of the Catalan referendum, and have demanded that units of the Spanish armed forces or the Guardia Civil (the paramilitary national police force) take over the government of Catalonia.  The remarks reminded many of the brutal repression of Catalan nationalism and the political left carried out by the Guardia Civil and the Spanish armed forces in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War.

Enforcement of the flag rule is seen as evidence that Madrid is cracking down on public expressions of Catalan nationalism in the run up to elections to the Catalan parliament, due on November 25.  According to opinion polls, the pro-sovereignty parties are likely to gain the majority they require to push through a bill for an independence referendum.  The Catalan government wishes to hold the referendum within the next 4 years.

Earlier this week inhabitants of the Catalan district of Ripollès in the Pyrennees were terrified by low flying Spanish jet planes, which allegedly buzzed local houses.  According to witnesses the F-18 jets “gave a threatening display” and almost touched the roofs of their houses.

The Spanish Defence Minister Joaquín Medina gave assurances that the jets had “not intended to provoke anyone” and that the were engaged on regular “manoeuvres [which] do not have any other significance.” However the minister said that he would open an investigation into the incident, and during a radio interview on the El Matí programme of Catalunya Ràdio offered an apology to the affected population.

The Spanish Civil War continues to cast a long shadow over the Catalan independence movement.  The clause in the Spanish Constitution which declares Spain to be “one indivisible nation”, which the Spanish Government claims makes the Catalan referendum illegal, was inserted into the democratic constitution in the 1970s after the death of General Franco and the end of his military dictatorship.  The clause was inserted on the insistence of the generals as one of their conditions for allowing the return of democracy.  “Spain, one and indivisible” was a slogan of the Francoists during the Civil War.