Catalonia And The Blockchain

On October 1, 2017, over 2 million Catalonians voted in favor of seceding from Spain and becoming an independent nation. The Spanish government, which had previously stated that holding any such referendum would be illegal, responded in a show of force that leading news organizations have reported as “disproportionate.” Images of riot-armor-clad police using brutal tactics to break up flashpoints, like voting locations, have saturated global media. Spain’s Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, has denied that the referendum vote took place, although he praised the police crackdown, stating “Today, all the Spaniards have seen that our state rule of law keeps its strength and reality, and restricts those who wish to subvert the state of law, and acts with all the legal resources, vis a vis all provocations, and does it with efficacy and in a serene way.” Catalonia’s President, Carles Puigdemont, in a televised address, stated: “On this day of hope and suffering, Catalonia’s citizens have earned the right to have an independent state in the form of a republic.”

The brutality of the Spanish government’s response is drawing international condemnation. Notably, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, stated:

I am very disturbed by the violence in Catalonia on Sunday. With hundreds of people reported injured, I urge the Spanish authorities to ensure thorough, independent and impartial investigations into all acts of violence. Police responses must at all times be proportionate and necessary. I firmly believe that the current situation should be resolved through political dialogue, with full respect for democratic freedoms. I call on the Government of Spain to accept without delay the requests by relevant UN human rights experts to visit.”

The Problem

Catalonia, which has an economy roughly the size of Finland or Portugal, is situated in northeastern Spain and is generally known for the Mediterranean beach resorts of Costa Brava, the Pyrenees Mountains, and the city of Barcelona. The region is home to 7.5 million people and has maintained its own distinct traditions, language (Catalan), and culture. Spanish nationalists would argue that Catalonia is a Spanish province, while Catalans fervently maintain their separate identity dates back to the 13th century. Both sides use history to buttress their arguments, and the truth will have to be ironed out by diplomats and lawyers. Until that time, the violent disputes surrounding Catalonian referendums could be afforded a measure of transparency by a technology familiar to many in Catalonia. In times when the truth is made out to be relative, being able to trust the data is key. The blockchain can be the solution for 2 main reasons.  

Reason #1: Controlling Information

Blockchain technologies, like those built on Ethereum, provide a means of sidestepping the Spanish government’s ability to control the flow of information through cyberspace. This allows for people to organize more efficiently and present a more united opposition. Coordinating times, dates, and locations are important to any movement that relies on mass numbers for success. Blockchain technology can keep the lines of communication open by combating censorship of the internet. Moreover, the information on a blockchain is decentralized. This means that physical voting booths could be replaced with software, and voting could be performed remotely, thereby removing the need to congregate together, which presents a target for oppressive governments.   

Reason #2: Trusting The Data

The blockchain provides a trustworthy means of cutting through the culturally charged history behind the Catalan struggle for independence by exposing the raw social data behind the movement. In this regard, blockchain technology can be thought of as a tactical tool that enhances democracy. The data stored on a blockchain can be broken down and verified, mathematically, as accurate. This removes the ability to refute election results or manipulate data to support unfounded conclusions or biased history. Votes could be counted in a matter of seconds and the results could be shared across the world immediately. Not being able to argue with the data removes the layers of biased abstraction surrounding cultural disputes like the one in Catalonia. A blockchain-enabled voting system would require the government of Spain to acknowledge the vote by 2.3 million people, instead of trying to rewrite history as it is happening.