Catalonia: Crisis of nationalism or separatism

Catalonia, a region in north-east Spain is facing crisis due to separatist tendencies following which its parliament approved an independence referendum on 1 October 2017, though it was suspended by the Spanish Constitutional Court. The turnout was claimed to be only 43 per cent however, authorities did claim that 90 per cent of the voters supported independence. Catalonia has its own language, parliament, flag and anthem. It even has its own police force and controls some of its own public services, such as schools and healthcare. It is one of Spain’s wealthiest and most productive regions and has a distinct history dating back almost 1,000 years.

Based on the results of referendum it declared independence but did not implement it. The President of Spain had offered negotiations and the Government is waiting for the answer from Catalan government. Very recently, the Spanish Government citing the provisions of Article 155 of the Constitution of Spain 1978, has said that it might decide to impose a direct rule. The Article says that if a regional government “doesn’t comply with the obligations of the Constitution or other laws it imposes, or acts in a way that seriously undermines the interests of Spain“, the national government can ask the Senate to vote on the use of the measure. However, an absolute majority must approve the article’s use.

The crisis raises few questions: Is it a demand for independence due to rising nationalism? Is it a crisis of governance in which citizens no longer trust their governments? Is it a demand for freedom to vote? And so on… It is not so simple to understand. In fact, the crisis is complicated and has surfaced as a cumulative effect of all such demands and questions.

Important facts about Catalonia

Catalonia is an autonomous community of Spain and is designated as a nationality by its Statute of Autonomy. It comprises Catalonia consists of four provincesBarcelonaGironaLleida, and Tarragona. Before the Spanish Civil War, it enjoyed broad autonomy but that was suppressed under decades of Gen Francisco Franco’s dictatorship from 1939-75. When Franco died, Catalan nationalism was revived and eventually the north-eastern region was granted autonomy again, under the 1978 constitution. A 2006 statute granted even greater powers, boosting Catalonia’s financial clout and describing it as a “nation”, but Spain’s Constitutional Court reversed much of this in 2010. This had angered the regional authorities. Following this Catalans held an unofficial vote on independence in November 2014. More than two million of the region’s 5.4 million eligible voters took part and officials declared that 80{c2bbcdfefa7cf399a86b5f5abe93e020d0a8f945fdf3f010891e938b11f34431} had backed secession. Separatists won Catalonia’s election in 2015 and set to work on holding a binding referendum, defying Spain’s constitution, which states that Spain is indivisible.

What we perceive in today’s world is the demand for liberal democracies across the world but liberalism, be it in the context of economics or politics, is becoming a bedrock of crises across the world. It has led to economic crisis and financial meltdown and now it is leading to political instability and fragmentation. It is now established that liberal reforms have triggered very different political responses throughout Europe, from a new progressive left in Greece to a right-wing xenophobic populism in Britain and a surge of civic nationalism in Scotland and Catalonia. The case of Catalonia is interesting not only because it is the richest region of Spain  but also because it is already governed autonomously and is determined to join the EU. In this context the crisis could damage the region and Spain as a whole economically, bringing new instability to the euro zone. It could also set an example for other countries with secessionist movements in Europe.

The recent decision taken by the Government of Spain to invoke Article 155 of the Constitution may further complicate the crisis and widen the gulf between the Central and the regional governments. It would be a better choice for the two governments would be to sit across the table for negotiation and put down their thinking caps to come to terms if at all Spain intends to remain integrated. Number of analysts have also pointed out that the dissolution of Catalonia’s parliament and the holding of snap regional elections may appear to offer a way of defusing today’s state of extreme tension, but there are plenty of reasons to doubt that such a strategy would provide a clear solution to the crisis.

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