Violent protests in Catalonia for the past few weeks have become top news of the day . After a strict judicial verdict to the organizers of the Catalan referendum for independence in 2017, the problem of the Catalan “separatism” which has disappeared was of the leading bands of the European and world media, has again become topical as never before. “Apostrophe” has tried to understand the reasons for a new round of confrontation between Barcelona and Madrid and uncover a scenario of further developments.
The origins of the conflict
The problem of the relationship of the Central Spanish government with the largest territorial autonomy Catalonia has deep historical roots. Own language, culture and history of the struggle for national identity and the facts of oppression by the Central Spanish authorities, especially during the dictatorship of General Franco in the years 1930-1970, form a strong basis for the Catalan independence movement.
However, perhaps the main catalyst of high-profile political speeches for the independence of Catalonia in recent years are not the issues of language and culture, and economic issues. In 1990 the level of support for Catalan independence has hovered around 20%, but when in 2008-2010 Spain was plunged into a financial and economic crisis, the contrast between wealthy Catalonia and other regions of the country was quite palpable, and the reluctance of the Catalans to be donors for the rest of the States more visible. To put forward new requirements for the extension of national autonomy to the Catalans was not a novelty – for the sake of support of the Catalans, the Spanish political forces periodically made these issues the subject of political bargaining.
But another requirement of fiscal independence, which, incidentally, have other national authority of Spain – the Basque Country and Navarre, because of the wealth of Catalonia, was unacceptable to the Spanish government. The tension between Madrid and Barcelona was reflected on the public mood, and the level of support for Catalan independence has grown to nearly 50%. However, to provide the Pro-independence majority, prevent demographic factors – having a relatively high standard of living, Costa del Sol, attracted and still attracts immigrants from other regions of Spain. They constitute a very significant part of the population and not too interested in the independence of Catalonia.
Precisely because of this demographic situation have failed, a controversial referendum in 2017, when the independence of Catalonia voted 95% of those who went to the polls, but the turnout was even slightly lower than 40%. This stripped the referendum of logical legitimacy, and the organizers of Madrid denounced as “coup” and “separatists”. After two years of the trial, the court sentenced them to lengthy conclusions, from 9 to 13 years of imprisonment. These sentences stirred up Catalonia and were clearly the straw that broke the camel’s back. A peaceful demonstration of Catalans became familiar to the Ukrainian “Maidan” – with barricades, Molotov cocktails and clashes between Protestants and Madrid “Berkut”.
But the full radicalization of the Catalan protests is because having fought at the weekend with security forces, on Monday the Protestants go home and Barcelona is immersed in a peaceful routine until the next wave of protests. This “polucilosi” the script makes sure that the protests will be delayed.
“Nobody predicted this level of intensity of protests, but over time it will be difficult to sustain. The demonstration effect is the most noticeable “here and now”, – said Pablo Simon, a political analyst and Professor of the Madrid University Carlos III.
“I don’t think the violence in the streets of Barcelona last too long. In truth, the verdict of the Supreme court the leaders of the separatists technically legal, but unduly harsh. The leaders of the independence movement, sentenced to a long prison term, considering the charges that they charged. Such sentences are not a good sign either for the current Spanish government, run by the socialists, nor the Catalan government under the leadership of the right-wing striving for independence”, – told the “Apostrophe”. Alejandro Quiroga, a Spanish researcher of history and politics at Newcastle University.
The decision of the Spanish court radicalized Catalan movement. Moreover, the residents of Catalonia, which previously was quite chilly embraced the idea of independence began to sympathize with their supporters. It would seem that in Madrid was to predict such a scenario. At least, not contracted to Barcelona, security officials from across the country. But it seems that instead of dialogue, Madrid is more inclined to the force scenario of the crackdown. The reason for this probably lies in the fact that already on 10 November, Spain will hold elections, so Spanish and Catalan politicians want to play political allegiances and to grab as much seats in the Parliament.
“The Spanish government would in the end acquit the leaders of the independence movement, but it is extremely unlikely before the General election on 10 November. They will not justify the Catalans, not to lose interest in voting,” – says Alejandro Quiroga.
“Currently the main problem is the lack of political directives and real dialogue. While in Spain the new government is formed, and in Catalonia will not be a new election with a new President who will start a dialogue; the situation is resolved. Now we see the scenario of electoral competition between parties led by groups that support independence,” said Pablo Simon.
“Who is to blame and what to do”
The fact that the protests in Catalonia entered the “hot phase” has become a problem not only for Madrid but also for Catalan politicians. Because the background clashes with hundreds of victims, calls for independence less looks like a beautiful peaceful dream. But slack calls for a second referendum, sounding from the lips of Catalan politicians, not satisfied with neither the Madrid nor the streets of Barcelona.
“The movement for the independence of Catalonia would have to change tactics, because it wasn’t working for a few years. However, it is not obvious that they ought to do. It seems to me that the violence that they showed in the last days, played against them. It worsened public opinion about the movement and jeopardize getting some support from the EU. New tactics must be peaceful and should cover significant sectors of the Catalan society. As you know, the level of support of independence of Catalonia does not exceed 50%. From the present situation, the greatest benefit will receive Catalan and Spanish extremist right-wing,” explained Alejandro Quiroga.
Thus, the desire of the Central Spanish government defiantly punish “Catalan separatists” and the desire of both parties to “score points” before the election, led to another round of confrontation between Madrid-Barcelona. And while the election cycle is over and will not form a new political situation, it is unlikely the existing status quo will be broken. Moreover, quite violent protests in Barcelona remain short-term and episodic, allowing you to hold on the situation before the elections. But the struggle for the independence of Catalonia will not have a chance of success, until the idea of change from divisive to unifying factor for the whole Catalan society.