Category: The Ugly – The Catalan Referendum

in 5 Questions

First off, let me state this is neither a pro independence or a pro Spanish state article, but a pro reason and democracy argument. Both sides in this sorry mess that is the conflict between the Spanish government and Catalan separatists, have brought the country to the brink of political mayhem. 

I have 5 questions to ask to try and explain this situation:
1. Why this unyielding moving ahead with the Catalan referendum, on part of the regional authorities?
The right-wing Partido Popular government is weakened after the last election, and 
the Catalan government could bide their time and work the backchannels of those parties willing to negotiate, mainly on the left, PSOE and Podemos. The second right-wing party Ciudadanos talk a lot about dialogue, but have taken no initiatives towards this and keep insisting on invoking “article 155” in the constitution, meaning that the Spanish government takes full control of the region. Not exactly a move that would inspire dialogue. 
In stead of blowing all the bridges to smithereens with insisting on the referendum and the following declaration of independence, the Catalan leaders could have worked to strengthen ties with the forces in national politics that are just as eager for a change on a national scale as well as being open to a change on a regional scale, i.e. increased autonomy. 
Patience is a double virtue when dealing with the most incompetent and corrupt government (with officials currently under investigation for: money laundering, bribery, tax evasion and slush funds) in western Europe, and the Catalan president, Puigdemont and his cohorts are understandably “reluctant” to show such virtue. Furthermore, the draconian attitudes of the Spanish government is the best “secessionist recruitment tool” they could have!

2. Why does the Catalan authorities insist that they have the mandate to declare independence?

Many Catalans feel “held hostage” by the independence movement and those opposed didn’t voice their opinion in the referendum, in part due to the incredibly ham-fisted intervention of the Spanish government. Nevertheless, it is a divisive move on part of the secessionists to use the “90%” pro independence vote as a carte blanche to move for independence. 43% of the voting population in Catalonia voted and under conditions that were far from ideal.

Puigdemont could have said; look, more than 2 million Catalans voted despite the Spanish government’s clumsy and violent intervention. We recognize that a 43% turn-out and the conditions for the referendum are not a basis for declaring an independent state, but this sends a clear message that the Catalan people should get the opportunity to vote. The reason is that he did not choose this route, is that he is himself “a hostage” – a hostage of the left-wing “Candidatura d’Unit Popular” (CUP) party that he depends on to hold parliamentary power in the region. As with their right-wing antagonists, Partido Popular, democracy takes a back-seat to political (and personal) gains and aims.

3. Why is the Spanish government so hesitant to negotiate increased autonomy for Catalonia?

The ruling party, the Partido Popular has a long history of imperialist nationalistic thinking and ignoring the rights and demands of the “autonomous” regions. The party springs out of the fascist Franco state, founded by a Franco-regime minister, Manuel Fraga. If you think bringing up Franco and fascism is harsh and unnecessary, and that the party has moved along since then, the current leader of the party Pablo Casado has stated that the Catalan president Puigdemont might end up like the previous Catalan leader who proclaimed independence, Lluis Companys, 83 years earlier. He was jailed, tortured, then executed.
Naturally, Casado claims he was just talking about Company’s politics. This is a clear, albeit, pathetic attempt at dog-whistling, loud enough for their nationalist base to applaud, but also loud enough for anyone else to get what he is really saying. It is hard to imagine anyone not getting the message coming from a party spokesperson. (Update. Nov 2021: On a side note, Casado recently received warm thanks frpom the Francisco Franco Foundation for attending a mass in the dictator’s honor in Andalucía.)

4. Why didn’t the Spanish government allow the referendum to be held, and then declare it void?

This seems like a gigantic tactical error, if the government had maintained the position that the vote was illegal but not intervened, you’d most likely have scenario 1. The secessionists would have lost. Should you have an unlikely scenario 2. A win for the Catalan independent movement, the government could simply refuse to acknowledge the legality of this, with the support of the EU.
Sending in the paramilitary Guardia Civil who used the same tactics as when they were Franco’s henchmen: the baton and the boot didn’t do their cause any favor. It made their EU partners uneasy, it made Spain look bad in the eyes of the whole world and it made the secessionists cause easier, people who were on the fence or against independence now fell on the “YES” side.
Again, the Spanish government shows that “realpolitik” is just not their thing, they’d much rather go for symbolic decisions and declarations that appease their nationalist base than look for solutions and compromises that would benefit the whole country.

5. Why no negotiations?

Both sides are way too entrenched in their positions, and the outside pressure on the Spanish government too feeble.
Getting new solutions with old politicians rarely works, so unfortunately this looks like a long arduous road of more chaos and mayhem, political posturing and flag waving. 

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