What the commentators said
“Civil war” is a phrase used sparingly in Spain, said Robert Hardman in the Daily Mail: it still stirs memories of the conflict in the 1930s that led to half a million deaths and four decades of fascist rule. But in Catalonia, the “grim unmentionable is now part of daily conversation”. Madrid’s brutal attempt to halt last week’s banned referendum has fostered a “mood of popular revolt” in “one of the most civilised parts of an EU member state”. Certainly, the authorities are preparing for the worst. Two cruise liners now moored off Barcelona hold thousands of reinforcements from the national police and the Guardia Civil awaiting orders in the event of trouble. Parallels with the past are unmistakeable, said Omar Encarnacion in Foreign Policy. “The drive towards regional autonomy” was one of the main triggers of the civil war; after his victory, General Franco tried to impose “cultural homogeneity” – banning Catalonia’s flag, language and national holiday. This helps explain the Catalans’ hostility to right-wing governments in Madrid. We must hope that Rajoy refrains from using “the violent methods” reminiscent of his Popular Party’s “authoritarian predecessors”.
It’s no wonder Spain won’t lightly surrender control of its richest region, said Matthew Campbell in The Sunday Times. With a population of 7.5 million, Catalonia has 16% of Spain’s population, yet it accounts for almost a fifth of the Spanish economy and more than a quarter of its foreign exports. Brussels too is desperately keen to avoid secession, said Tony Barber in the Financial Times. The EU fears that Spain’s break-up would give heart to other separatist movements across Europe, from French-ruled Corsica, to Flanders in Belgium and Italy’s Alto Adige province, home to a German-speaking majority. The worry is that “controversies about national borders, self-determination and minority rights that were once the cause of many a European war will come to haunt the continent again”.