Spain’s constitutional turmoil: Catalan crisis escalates

By Perry Gresham

Spain is in turmoil. A country with a weak minority government is facing its biggest constitutional crisis in decades, as Catalonia threatens independence. This is all happening in a nation that never truly recovered from the global recession, especially away from the prosperous north.

At the start of this month, Catalans went to the polls to vote on the question: “Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?” The vote had been ruled unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court of Spain, with reference to the country’s 1978 constitution, which declares Spain to be “the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards.” Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy described the ballot as illegal. Not content with a simple condemnation of the referendum, the Spanish government sent in masked and armed National Police to disrupt proceedings. Violence ensued and according to Catalan authorities, around 900 people were injured. Despite this, there was a turnout of 43%, and 92% of those votes backed independence.

Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont has signed a document proclaiming Catalonia as an “independent and sovereign state”, but the actual declaration of independence has been postponed, pending talks with Madrid. Puigdemont’s hesitation has disappointed his pro-independence coalition partners, but he is a sensible man, and is making his moves carefully. Madrid are threatening the imposition of direct rule if the declaration is made. It would not take much to inflame tensions that still remain across the nation from the civil war and the years of oppression that followed.

Now Puigdemont has accused Rajoy of ignoring his request for talks. Even if talks do go ahead, compromise seem impossible, the two positions are diametrically opposed. There is also speculation that the Spanish government may try Puigdemont on charges of sedition, which would truly be an entry into unknown territory.

Catalonia demands independence and if the Spanish government won’t grant them it, major civil unrest is on the horizon.

Photograph: SBA73 via Flickr

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