Catalonia’s separatism: Nothing to lose but their chains

Pressure for a referendum keeps growing

IT IS a monument to defeat. On September 11th, Catalonia’s national day, newly uncovered ruins of old Barcelona were exposed three centuries after the Catalans lost a war against Spain’s new king. The Diada was celebrated this year by hundreds of thousands of people forming a 400km (250-mile) human chain across Catalonia, imitating the 1989 Baltic Way chain demanding independence from the Soviet Union.

The organisers were less clear about the Catalan aim, some calling it a direct demand for independence, others saying it was just a demand for a referendum that the Popular Party (PP) government of Mariano Rajoy in Madrid refuses to sanction. Polls show just over half of Catalans back independence, but that a whopping 80% want a referendum.

An independence march in last year’s Diada caught politicians by surprise. The Catalan president, Artur Mas, pledged to call a vote in 2014, exactly 300 years after Philip V’s troops squashed the Barcelona revolt and also when Scotland votes on independence from the United Kingdom. But with Mr Rajoy blocking even a non-binding referendum, Mr Mas may now postpone his “consultation” until 2016.

His plan to turn the regional election that year into a “plebiscitary vote” is fraught with problems. Catalans can hardly be expected to elect a new government to run health care, education and social services solely on the issue of independence. Mr Mas and Mr Rajoy have held talks to try to break the deadlock. But the Catalan president holds out little hope of success.

Mr Mas, who backs independence but has coalition partners who do not, may now wait. A general election in 2015 could see Mr Rajoy ousted or weakened, and perhaps needing support from Mr Mas’s Convergence and Union in Madrid’s parliament. Or the Socialists may return to power. They favour constitutional reform that would create a federal state. But such a change requires PP support. A further complication is that the separatist Catalan Republican Left party, which props up Mr Mas’s minority government in Barcelona, could force an earlier regional poll.

A banner over the ruins of old Barcelona says its defenders promised to “win or die”. They lost and Philip V took away most of Catalonia’s self-government. A recovery in Spain may yet pop the independence bubble. But Madrid’s intransigence on the referendum could pump it up again. Catalans and Spaniards badly need a new understanding.


Image: zkvrev (Flickr)

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