By Gareth Axenderrie
The dust has somewhat settled in Catalonia. Since the Spanish national police force was sent onto the streets of Barcelona, in an attempt to shut down an unauthorised independence referendum last month, there are no longer ugly scenes of state supported thuggery. Frequent demonstrations – both for and against – are largely peaceful.
Following the Catalonian Parliament voting heavily in favour of succeeding from Spain a week last Friday, the Spanish Government in Madrid stood resolute. As masses celebrated in the semi-autonomous region in the country’s north east, Madrid had no intention of giving into demands.
Carles Puigdemont, already removed as Catalonian President, has since relocated to Belgium, where his legal team appear locked in a battle with the Spanish High Court. The central government in Madrid has also taken complete control of the region, and fresh elections have been called for December 21st.
As Puigdemont resides in the relative safety of Belgium, eight of his former ministers have been detained, and stood in Spain’s highest court accused of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds. Four other former ministers failed to appear, their absence a signal of their refusal to recognise Spanish law.
This period is now fraught and worrying for those on all sides of a complicated equation.
Those Catalonians who voted in favour of independence argue that their democratic will is being denied by an authoritarian regime in Spain. “I don’t hate Spain, but I understand after all we have lived, the persecution, the torture, the antidemocracy, the hate the depression… I want to be free”, one lady claimed as the independence was announced. The use of force by Madrid appears to have stiffened the resolve of those who voted ‘Si’, and given extra food for thought to those who sat somewhere near the fence.
Many of those Catalonians who wish to see the region remain with Spain will see the use of force against their unarmed fellow citizens as outrageous and deeply disturbing. When elections take place in December, who will they vote for?
Of course, the democratic process last month was deeply flawed. As well as officially being illegal, turnout was low at around 43%. Many polling stations were obstructed. Of those who voted, a 90% ‘Si’ vote does not reflect reliable polling in the build-up. Latest statistics still suggest that those firmly in favour of succession poll at around 43%.
Then, there is who will stand in the elections in December, and on what platforms. The Spanish government says they welcome Puigdemont running for re-election, and yet have also issued a warrant for his arrest. Whether he stands or not, a plethora of pro-independence parties will. The Junts pel Si alliance, made up of Democratic Convergence of Catalonia, the Republican Left of Catalonia, Democrats of Catalonia and the Left Movement, will all hope to build on the 62 seats they won in their 2015 result. If they gain control of the region’s parliament again, will that be a mandate for a second attempt at declaring independence?
What the Spain now has, is a genuine crisis. For now, it’s a crisis played out peacefully. Act One was noisy. It bubbled and threatened to spill over, but has managed to contain itself just before the interval. Those involved and those watching on with worrying anticipation, sit painfully contained for now. In December however, the curtain rises again. Act Two will be a democratic one. The climax could be a genuinely messy one, before anybody even dreams of a satisfying dénouement.