The Catalan crisis took another turn yesterday as hundreds of thousands took to the streets of Barcelona to rally in support of a united Spain. This comes just two days after the Spanish government stripped Catalonia of its autonomy after it had declared independence from Spain.
The atmosphere was peaceful as chants of “Viva Espana” echoed and Spanish flags were draped across the city. The demonstration has left many wondering if most Catalans even want independence after all. This is Spain’s biggest political crisis in over 40 years yet the government and the people of Spain are still left looking for answers.
How did it get to this?
Catalonia’s autonomy has been a controversial topic in Spain for many years, after the Spanish government rewrote 14 articles of Catalan law in 2010. This watered-down autonomy, as well as years of financial recession and cuts led to an informal independence vote in 2014. Over two million people voted, and it was declared that 80% had backed independence. The separatist party then won Catalonia’s 2015 election and started to work on holding a legally binding referendum, although it defied Spain’s constitution.
Fast-forward to September 6, 2017 and the situation in Spain really began to escalate. The Catalan parliament approved its own law stating that an independence referendum would take place on October 1. The bill was signed by Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, and it was put into local law almost immediately. Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, responded to this by asking the constitutional court of Spain to nullify it. The government also moved to take over the region’s policing and finances.
Then crisis hit. Millions of people took to the polling stations on October 1 to vote on Catalan’s independence. They were met by riot police, who fired rubber bullets at activists and seized ballot boxes from polling stations.
This resulted in at least 844 civilians and 33 police officers being injured as violence spread across the region. Despite the attempts of the Spanish authorities 2.26 million people cast their vote. The Catalan government revealed the ballot resulted in a Yes vote of 90%, with President Puigdemont claiming that Catalonia had “gained the right to be an independent state.”
The Declaration of Independence was approved in Catalan Parliament nine days later on October 10. The motion declaring independence was approved with 70 in favour, 10 against and two abstentions. This lead to a formal request from the Spanish government as Rajoy stated that Puigdemont had until 10am on Monday the 16th to declare independence. This was met with Puigdemnont instead asking for a two-month negotiation period. Another deadline was therefore triggered and the date set for the 19th, however, Puigdemont again refused to answer. Then two days ago the Catalan Parliament finally declared independence from Spain.
The result? The Spanish government took matters into its own hands and triggered Article 155 of the Spanish constitution – the so-called ‘nuclear’ option. Puidgemont and his cabinet were sacked, and the regional parliament was dissolved. The deputy prime minister Santamaria was given control of the region temporarily, and an early regional election has also been called for December 21. The situation appeared clearer with Catalonia still wanting its independence and many believing this would only stall the movement.
The “silenced majority” respond
Then, yesterday, the tale took another twist as a huge pro-union rally took place in Barcelona. Thousands of anti-separatists protested against independence in the Plaza Colon. Chants of “long live Spain” and “jail for Puigdemont” echoed around the city.
What this means for Catalonia is still to be seen, as it is still unclear whether the region wants to leave Spain. All that matters now is that these demonstrations remain peaceful, the last thing anyone wants is a repeat of the scenes that took place on the 1st. The government in Madrid has indicated in the past that it could allow constitutional reforms; however, this has yet to be seen. The crisis is by no means resolved and the Spanish government must tread carefully if they want to avoid escalating it further.