State Violence Meets Catalan Referendum in Spain, Following Russian Meddling

[Content Note: Police brutality.]

Sam Jones and Stephen Burgen at the Guardian report:
The Catalan president has called for international help in tackling its independence dispute with Spain, saying Europe cannot continue to ignore the issue after almost 900 people were injured during the police crackdown on the referendum.

"The European commission must encourage international mediation," Carles Puigdemont said on Monday. "It cannot look the other way any longer."

At least 844 people and 33 officers were reported to have been hurt on Sunday after riot police stormed polling stations, dragging out voters and firing rubber bullets into crowds.

The European commission has so far declined to intervene in what it has described as an internal Spanish matter and has urged both sides to "move very swiftly from confrontation to dialogue."
Both sides, even though people just going to the polls were met with police violence.

This conflagration happens against a backdrop of old divisions — as well as new ones, fomented by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who continues to sow chaos in western democracies whenever and however he can, and his flunky Julian Assange.
In recent weeks, Russian state-backed news organizations and automated social network accounts, known as bots, have aggressively promoted digital misinformation and outright fake news about the politically charged vote [on] Sunday, according to an analysis of recent online activity.

The efforts — aimed at discrediting Spanish political and legal authorities that [tried] to clamp down on the Catalan government's attempt to hold the outlawed referendum — follows similar digital misinformation campaigns during Europe's season of elections in 2017.

These online activities are intended to cast doubt over Europe's democratic processes at a time of heightened tensions between the EU and Russia, experts warn.

From the French and German elections to Spain and the Czech Republic, among others, Russian-backed online networks have routinely championed extremist groups through social media and digital news outlets.

...As part of the recent misinformation campaign, Russian state news outlets including Sputnik have written misleading articles that have highlighted alleged corruption within the Spanish government, as well as quoting officials from North Korea about how to resolve the country's standoff over the Catalan referendum. The agency published more than 200 articles on the upcoming vote over the two weeks through September 27, according to the Atlantic Council's analysis, with both pro- and anti-referendum slants.

These Russian news agencies, as well as Russian users on Twitter, also repeatedly promoted the views of Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, who has taken to social media to call for Spanish authorities to respect the upcoming vote in Catalonia.

"Spain's government acts like a banana monarchy — embarrassing for Europe!" he wrote on Twitter on September 19. ...[H]is pro-referendum stance also has been routinely shared by Sputnik and alleged networks of Russian social network bots.
Emphasis mine.

To be completely blunt, I am not especially knowledgeable about Spanish politics and Catalan independence. But I do know quite a bit about Russian meddling and its increasing imperiling of democracy across Europe and North America.

The flammable tensions long existed ahead of this referendum. Putin just did what he does best: Exploit existing fissures, deepening those cracks until something breaks.

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