Between the twelve political prisoners from the unofficial referendum in 2017, the fleeing ex –leader Carles Puigdemont and the results of the third general election in four years, what is next for Catalonia?
Catalonia came to the world’s attention after holding an unofficial independence referendum. According to government officials, 90% of votes were in favour of independence from Spain.
This brought to light the corrupt actions of the Spanish Civil Police, ‘La Guardia,’ who were deployed in polling stations across the country and confiscated over 10,000 ballots, resulting in public unrest and the injury of 337 people.
The ruling separatists in the Catalan government then announced independence on October 27, 2017. This provoked the Spanish government leading them to invoke Article 155 for the first time in Spain.
Article 155 is considered an extreme option. It allows the Spanish government to regain control over an autonomous region if it declares independence.
The events of 2017 have had a lasting effect. Eighteen people are currently on trial in the Supreme Court in Madrid, including the majority of ex-leader Puigdemont’s cabinet, whilst he himself remains a fugitive in Belgium.
The results of these trials are still yet to be published. A defence lawyer working on the case, Andreu Van Den Eynde said:
“There is no international or European Union law that prevents the secession of a sub-state entity, it does not exist.”
Between them, the prisoners are facing over 200 years in prison on charges of rebellion, disobedience and embezzlement for the roles they have played in the referendum.
Those charged include Orial Junqueras, former vice-president and the highest ranking member of the former Catalan government, now facing trial in the Spanish Supreme court. In addition, there are two political prisoners, nicknamed ‘The Two Jordis.’ Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, who are both civil society members.
Sanchez is a part of the Catalan National Assembly and Cuixart of the “Ómnium Cultural,” a Catalan association formed in the sixties to promote Catalonian culture. Sanchez became known when he and three others took part in a twenty-day hunger strike.
The events continue to stir the emotions of the Spanish people, sparking many protests. The most recent was in February just after the trials started. 200,000 demonstrators took to the streets in support of those on trial with banners reading: “Freedom for political prisoners” and “Self-determination is not a crime”.
Now the third general election in four years has been held. It was called for by current Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, after right-wing and Catalan separatist parties rejected his 2019 budget in February. Following the last election in 2016, Sánchez already held a minority government with only 84 seats out of 350.
This leaves the political landscape in Spain complicated and the country’s future uncertain. Sánchez’s party polled 29% in the most recent elections. However, in order to form a government, the party will either have to unite with left-wing Podemos and regional parties or with Spain’s centre-right parties.
With the European elections coming up and tensions rising between current parties, an adequate resolution to the Catalan issue still seems far away.