Anal­y­sis: no easy way out for ei­ther Barcelona or Madrid

The Guardian Weekly - - International news - Si­mon Tis­dall

Last Sun­day “Silent Cat­alo­nia” fi­nally found its voice. The ques­tion was whether the op­po­nents of the Cata­lan pres­i­dent, Car­les Puigde­mont, had left it too late.

Many ex­pla­na­tions are of­fered for why, if most Cata­lans do not want a break with Madrid, the sep­a­ratists have come so close to their goal. Both the dis­rupted 1 Oc­to­ber ref­er­en­dum and an ear­lier, non-bind­ing vote in 2014 saw the per­cent­age back­ing in­de­pen­dence peak in the low to mid-40s.

Union­ist forces are di­vided. The con­ser­va­tive Peo­ple’s party, led by Spain’s prime min­is­ter, Mar­i­ano Ra­joy, is un­pop­u­lar in Cat­alo­nia. The So­cial­ists, the main na­tional op­po­si­tion, have suf­fered lead­er­ship splits. The Cata­lan So­cial­ist party is loth to be seen sid­ing with Ra­joy.

Many Barcelona res­i­dents say an at­mos­phere of in­tim­i­da­tion took hold in the run-up to the vote, with ac­tivists ac­cus­ing those who dis­agreed with them of har­bour­ing fas­cist sym­pa­thies. Now the “silent ma­jor­ity” has taken to the field, Puigde­mont this week faced a real dilemma. If he went ahead with a dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence, his big­gest prob­lem might not be with Ra­joy, the Guardia Civil and di­rect rule from Madrid, but with many of his Cata­lan con­stituents.

Ra­joy, how­ever, should not mis­take last Sun­day’s demon­stra­tion as sup­port for his in­flex­i­ble stance. His best course may be to use his con­sti­tu­tional pow­ers to in­sist on fresh re­gional elec­tions, which could re­sult in the pro-in­de­pen­dence coali­tion los­ing con­trol of the Cata­lan as­sem­bly.

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