Give Me a Crash Course In . . . Cat­alo­nia

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - NEWS REVIEW - GUY HEDGECOE

What is hap­pen­ing in Cat­alo­nia?

The na­tion­al­ist-con­trolled re­gional parliament plans to is­sue a dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence from Spain, pos­si­bly as soon as Mon­day. This fol­lows a ref­er­en­dum on Oc­to­ber 1st in which about 90 per cent of par­tic­i­pants voted in favour of se­ces­sion (although the turnout was about 40 per cent). The Span­ish gov­ern­ment says it will do what­ever it takes to pre­vent the plan go­ing any fur­ther.

Why so much fuss about a ref­er­en­dum?

Span­ish prime min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy deemed the vote il­le­gal, say­ing the con­sti­tu­tion does not al­low for any kind of ref­er­en­dum on se­ces­sion by a re­gion. The con­sti­tu­tional court has backed his po­si­tion, as has King Felipe.

Cata­lan pres­i­dent Car­les Puigde­mont says a ref­er­en­dum is le­gal and a demo­cratic right. In the build-up to the vote Span­ish po­lice seized mil­lions of vot­ing slips, ar­rested Cata­lan gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and took con­trol of part of the re­gional gov­ern­ment’s fi­nances. On the day, riot po­lice broke into polling sta­tions wield­ing ba­tons and drag­ging vot­ers away.

Why did Cata­lans want a ref­er­en­dum?

They have the big­gest econ­omy of Spain’s 17 re­gions, but say they pay a great deal more in taxes than they re­ceive in in­vest­ment. Also, they com­plain that although they were granted sub­stan­tial au­ton­o­mous pow­ers by Spain’s con­sti­tu­tion, Madrid is in­tent on reel­ing those back in, with the courts reg­u­larly rev­ers­ing laws ap­proved by the Cata­lan parliament.

Many pro-in­de­pen­dence Cata­lans feel Spain is un­sym­pa­thetic to their cul­ture and lan­guage. Many Cata­lans, par­tic­u­larly in the re­gion’s heart­lands, sim­ply do not feel any emo­tional at­tach­ment to Spain.

Do all Cata­lans want in­de­pen­dence?

No. Polls over re­cent years have fre­quently shown that those who want in­de­pen­dence are out­num­bered by union­ists, but the se­ces­sion­ist move­ment is much more or­gan­ised and vo­cal. The ref­er­en­dum re­sult did not rep­re­sent most of those who op­pose in­de­pen­dence who stayed at home. How­ever, about 80 per cent of Cata­lans want their re­gion to stage a ne­go­ti­ated ref­er­en­dum on their fu­ture.

Can’t they sit down and talk about it?

The Cata­lan gov­ern­ment says it has re­peat­edly of­fered to ne­go­ti­ate but that Ra­joy never ac­cepts. The Span­ish gov­ern­ment has al­ways ruled out hold­ing a ref­er­en­dum and now says it can­not con­sider ne­go­ti­a­tions un­der the threat of a uni­lat­eral dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence. The EU ap­pears to have de­cided not to get in­volved, at least for the mo­ment. How­ever, other do­mes­tic par­ties are work­ing to con­vince both sides to sit down. The Catholic Church might me­di­ate.

So what hap­pens next?

The con­sti­tu­tional court has sus­pended Mon­day’s sched­uled ses­sion of the re­gional parliament, where pro-in­de­pen­dence par­ties had planned to meet, quite pos­si­bly to ap­prove an in­de­pen­dence mo­tion. The gov­ern­ment is also con­sid­er­ing trig­ger­ing Ar­ti­cle 155 of the con­sti­tu­tion, which would give it the power to sus­pend Cat­alo­nia’s au­ton­o­mous pow­ers. How­ever, both moves are likely to cause the cri­sis to es­ca­late. With thou­sands of Span­ish po­lice de­ployed to the re­gion, there are con­cerns that Spain’s deep­est cri­sis for decades could turn even uglier.


A woman car­ries an in­de­pen­dence Cata­lan flag as demon­stra­tors march in Barcelona on Tues­day.

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