By Tom Davidson
Friday 27th October will no doubt prove to be a momentous day in Spanish political history. As if proudly marching out in front of a firing squad, now former-President Carles Puigdemont declared Catalonia as independent from Spain. This came following a parliamentary vote, boycotted by pro-unionists, that passed with 70 votes out of 135 representatives. The declaration, although not legally recognised by the Spanish state, would mark the start of an eventful chapter in the ever-deteriorating relationship between nation and region.
Whilst scenes of excitement and joy filled the Catalan parliament, an ominous concoction of trepidation, fear, and apprehension still lingered in the atmosphere. The celebrations we saw on that afternoon should have provoked a feeling of immense relief in the Catalan separatists but, conversely, left many uneasy.
Amongst the pandemonium of last month’s referendum murmurs circulated of Spain’s not-so-secret political weapon. Almost immediately after Puigdemont’s intrepid declaration of independence, this weapon was put into action. For the first time in the country’s history, PM Mariano Rajoy triggered Article 155 of the constitution resulting in Puigdemont being stripped of his leadership, his government being dissolved, and the imposition of direct rule on the region. Once again in this debacle, Rajoy showed himself to be uncompromising.
Two days after the declaration, Catalonia’s ‘silent-majority’ finally found its voice. Last Sunday, Barcelona saw its streets flooded with over 300,000 anti-independence protesters. Armed with picket signs, Spanish flags and a desire for unity, masses gathered in the region’s capital calling for Puigdemont’s head on a spike. In fact, the Catalan revolutionary could face up to 30 years behind bars for charges of rebellion, sedition, and embezzlement.
Puigdemont now seems adamant that he will drag out the spectacle of his martyrdom. At the first sign of choppy waters, the former captain of the sinking ‘Sí’ vessel abandoned ship, seeking refuge in Brussels. With the prospect of some serious prison time looming large, Puigdemont planned his get-away along with 4 other ministers of the Generalitat – a plot twist marking a rather ungracefully executed hit-and-run on Spanish politics.
The referendum has certainly shown a necessity for dialogue between Spain and the Catalans
But the controversy does not stop there. Almost a week following the declaration, a Spanish judge ordered the detention of 8 officials of the deposed autonomous government of Catalonia. After failing to turn up to his court hearing, prosecutors started to seek out an EU arrest warrant to seize Puigdemont. This game of cat and mouse, however, came to an end this Sunday as the Catalan antihero and his gang of runaways swapped their Senyeras for white flags, surrendering to Belgian police. They have since been granted conditional freedom.
Although Rajoy has made it clear that independence will remain a pipe dream for the separatists, the chaos unleashed by the referendum has certainly shown a necessity for dialogue between Spain and the Catalans. At this stage, however, this seems implausible. The Spanish judicial system continues to stifle democracy and, as long as Rajoy holds Catalonia hostage, we will only see an intensification of the constitutional crisis.
(This article is a follow up to a piece written in the immediate aftermath of Catalonia’s controversial referendum that can be found here)
Photograph: Joan Campderros-i-Canas via Flickr