A member of Knesset who was observing the balloting during the Catalan independence referendum on Sunday unexpectedly found herself in the middle of a violent police crackdown.
Zionist Camp MK Ksenia Svetlova escaped unhurt from a police rampage at a polling station in Barcelona, one of the polling stations in Catalonia in which dozens were injured by rubber bullets and beatings from police batons.
Svetlova was one of 30 foreign nationals invited by regional officials to observe the voting process.
At about 10 a.m., “we saw a group of people who weren’t being allowed to vote, so they sat in the middle of the road and sang the Catalan anthem and other patriotic songs.
“Without any warning or provocation, the police started shooting rubber bullets. I was right in the middle of it, with other parliamentarians,” Svetlova told Sky News. “I saw a rubber bullet on the ground, right near me. I saw people, young and old, being beaten with clubs.”
The MK attributed to her experience as a journalist for enabling her to quickly find a safe spot until the violence passed:
“I entered a building and kept out of the way, so I wouldn’t be beaten with a club. One MP from a Scandinavian country had never experienced anything like this and was very close to where the police went crazy. If you don’t know how to find cover in these situations, you could end up beaten or shot.”
Although the government had declared the referendum on independence illegal, and interference like confiscation of voting machines was expected, she said the violence was not:
“I thought there might be problems, like that the government might try to take the ballots away so votes couldn’t be counted, or that Internet might be cut off in some place.
“Many Spaniards, not just Catalans, are in shock at the National Police’s behavior. No one expected it to be so brutal.
“People feel like the democratic process has been harmed,” she added. “Even people who planned to vote against [independence] are upset that they didn’t have the right to express their opinion.”
Svetlova said she found it jarring that this took place in an EU country: “We’re talking about Europe, European values of democracy and freedom of expression. How do these things go together?”
She said that she came as an impartial observer and had no opinion on the issue of Catalonian independence.