Catalonia’s independence referendum set in motion a series of events, with implications that will be felt across Spain–and Europe—for several years.
- Madrid takes immediate control of its institutions and sets early regional elections for December 21.
- If the unionist forces prevail, they’ll fight to form a united front, because they’ve little in common with each other beyond their desire to stay in Spain.
- If secessionists win, as most polls indicate, they will need to determine whether or not to push ahead with secession, potentially risking a dangerous confrontation with the Spanish state, or disappoint a large part of their electorate by entering into negotiations with Madrid.
- In an ideal situation, the catastrophe would open the door for a discussion about Spain’s political and territorial model, similar to the one who followed the end of Franco’s dictatorship.
A couple of weeks following the election, which took place October 1, Madrid responded to Catalonia’s subsequent declaration of independence by dissolving the Catalan government, taking immediate control of its institutions and calling early regional elections for December 21. But Catalan society is broken, and also the political and emotional distance between the Catalan nationalists and the Spanish trade unionists so high, that the vote alone won’t end the region’s issues. The gap that separates the nationalists out of unionists raises questions regarding Spain’s future.
The nation which managed to construct a democracy following the conclusion of a dictatorship in the late 1970s seems disoriented as it endures its most significant crisis in four decades. Opposing Views of the Identical Event. Catalans were divided between nationalists and unionists long before last month’s referendum. The events of October 1 only created more controversy.
The nationalists argue that the vote, which occurred against all the odds, confirmed Catalonia’s desire. They also see the police crackdown on voters as evidence of Spain’s hostility towards Catalonia. The Spanish government and unionist voters, and on the other hand, assert that the referendum is illegal, that it lacked a proper electoral roll along with a valid electoral commission.
In an ideal situation, the catastrophe would open the door for a discussion about Spain's political and territorial model, similar to the one who followed the end of Franco's dictatorship.
From their viewpoint, the vote confirmed only that regional leaders are willing to violate the law to achieve their political goals. Although the interpretations of what happened differ broadly, there is no denying the fluctuations the vote produced. Before October 1 the proud and provocative–though internally fragmented—separatist government headed Catalonia.
The pro-freedom flag known as the estelada hung from balconies throughout the region, while the Spanish flag flew in only a couple of public buildings. Only the expert independence organizations seemed capable of phoning millions of Catalans to the streets to maintain the most significant demonstrations Europe has experienced in quite a long time.
Catalonia’s secession movement is part of a growing trend of nationalism in Europe
Nationalists controlled the streets, the story of the events, and they had been the only ones with a transparent strategy to sell their origin to the rest of the planet. By early November things had changed drastically. The Spanish administration ignored the Catalan government, and several former Catalan officials have been in prison or take shelter in Belgium.
Spanish flags competed with the esteladas on balconies and terraces, particularly in Barcelona. Unity groups had organized two massive demonstrations, demonstrating that they, too, can mobilize large crowds. It seemed as if Catalonia’s quiet majority, as politicians and commentators called them, had finally woken up that the region was facing the abyss.
Outside Catalonia, a form of nationalism has begun to take on as well. Merchants have happily announced that sales of Spanish flags had skyrocketed lately as a result. However, the growing nationalism also had a darker side. Conservative groups called for a boycott of products, and small far-right groups chanted fascist slogans at unity demonstrations.
Catalan nationalism has existed for hundreds of years, and the region has rebelled against Madrid many times. Economic troubles and corruption cases involving members of Spain party strengthened separatist sentiments in recent decades.
Catalan leaders are accountable for the situation, having encouraged independence to divert voters attention from unpopular spending cuts and their very own corruption scandals. Catalan conservatives decision to abandon their traditional quest for autonomy and concentrate instead of independence helped the secessionist parties to gain ground from the center-left and left, to the point that they now command the independence movement.
The 3 Core Ideas of Catalan Secessionism
The secessionist storyline is based on three core ideas: The Spanish state is hostile to Catalonia, it threatens Catalonia’s identity, and it takes advantage of Catalonia’s wealth. The fiscal issues are subject to endless debate because though Catalonia is a contributor to the Spanish state, other regions are, too. A debate in which Spain is hostile to Catalonia and the Catalan identity is contentious. Catalan is widely spoken in the region’s public administration. Also, schools instruct Catalan history and civilization, a radical difference in the life under Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, which banned regional languages. Hardcore Spanish nationalists, in actuality, lament Madrid’s decision to give Catalonia control of its education system, which they see as a secessionist factory.
To be specific, a few Spanish government representatives have spoken with contempt of Catalonia in latest months, and the pictures of cops using force to prevent individuals from voting October 1 did not help. However, these episodes aren’t elements of a plot against the region. A running joke in Catalonia is that nobody has made a more substantial effort to create secessionists than Spain’s prime minister. Catalonia’s freedom movement is active, but it’s heterogeneous. The individuals who’ve voted for secessionist parties lately fall into three principal groups. The first includes individuals who want freedom as quickly as possible, at any cost.
A running joke in Catalonia is that nobody has done more for the secessionist cause than Rajoy.
They feel no cultural or emotional connection to Spain, a country they consider as alien, remote and antagonistic. They consider Catalonian institutions more legitimate than their Spanish counterparts, plus they believe that Spain’s judicial system is corrupt and subject to Madrid’s political sway. They also tend to have negative opinions of southern Spanish regions, which in their view receive too much money from the state. This category is firm in the Catalan hinterland, where only Catalan is spoken and where migrants from elsewhere in Spain well.
The second group consists of those who consider independence as ideal, they’re angry at the Spanish government for its reluctance to negotiate with a legal referendum, plus they attribute Madrid’s intransigence to the crisis. This group has some relations with the 3rd one, made up of those who don’t need independence, but who vote for separatist parties in protest against the Spanish authorities. For them, the problem isn’t necessarily Spain, but the Spanish state and, particularly, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s authorities. Both of these voting blocs eventually could go back to a more moderate position, if Spanish authorities listened to them.
A running joke in Catalonia is that nobody has done more for the secessionist cause than Rajoy. Catalonia’s communications infrastructure is a well-oiled broadcasting and propaganda machine. Everything, from radio and TV to WhatsApp classes and events, is utilized to disperse pro-independence views. Catalan nationalists also have a knack for promoting their origin abroad. For the last five years, pro-independence organizers have designed demonstrations to be unusual events which will draw the attention of Television broadcasters and captivate social network users around the world. Even Barcelona’s football team plays a part in the marketing campaign: Its games are a stage for expert independence messages.
In each game, for instance, people start to sing in favor of independence when the clock reaches 17:14. Catalan officials are almost always keen to speak to international media to market their platform, and the area has started unofficial embassies in dozens of nations. By comparison, Catalonia’s unionists lacked a collective voice, then later, in a lot of cases, would decide to remain quiet on the topic of secession to prevent a confrontation with the pro-independence camp. The Spanish authorities, meanwhile, have done little to win back the minds and hearts of ordinary Catalans who’ve turned into independence only as a protest against a government that appears uninterested in them.
The Spanish Government’s strategy (or lack thereof) for managing the Catalan secession issue only increases secessionist legitimacy.
Madrid’s strategy to deal with the secessionist movement concentrates on the fact that independence is illegal. The central government has made no visible attempt to present a story to counter that of the separatists. The strategy seems to work everywhere in actuality, The ruling party, the Popular Party, is still the most famous political force in the nation. Taking into consideration the region’s political situation, however, employing the same strategy in Catalonia is insecure.
What the separatists need can be illegal under the current constitution, but that does not make their emotions any less real. Six weeks after the independence referendum, the psychological and political space between a society and the rest of Spain is as vast as ever. Madrid cannot afford to ignore the millions of Catalans who no longer feel at home in Spain. In the same time, the Catalan leadership is trapped in its own story, the snowball it’s generated is getting ever more significant as it rolls out of control.
Whichever side wins the December 21 regional elections, the Catalan conflict won’t end there. If secessionists win, as most polls indicate, they will need to determine whether or not to push ahead with secession, potentially risking a dangerous confrontation with the Spanish state, or disappoint a large part of their electorate by entering into negotiations with Madrid. And if the unionist forces prevail, they’ll fight to form a united front, because they’ve little in common with each other beyond their desire to stay in Spain.
In an ideal situation, the catastrophe would open the door for a discussion about Spain’s political and territorial model, similar to the one who followed the end of Franco’s dictatorship. Spain’s transition to democracy gave policymakers chance to explore the sort of country they desired for the future. Thus far, however, no signals have emerged that any form of debate will take place between Madrid and Catalonia.