Analysis: no easy way out for either Barcelona or Madrid
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.