The Catalan Government Declares Catalonia Not Quite Independent
The region’s President Carles Puigdemont backed away from an outright declaration that Catalonia would become a breakaway state of its own, a move that would cause even greater tension in a region rife with political division and increasing animosity.
While Puigdemont declared independence for Catalonia, he also suspended it. He proposed “to start dialogue, to arrive at an agreed solution to advance with the demands of the people of Catalonia.”
“With the results of October 1, Catalonia has won the right to be an independent state,” he said, referring to the contested referendum in which the central government tried, in some cases with shocking violence, to prevent voting. In the event, more than 40 percent of the electorate cast ballots, and of those more than 90 percent voted for independence. “If everyone acts responsibly, the conflict can be resolved with calm,” said Puigdemont.
The last time Spain saw a crisis that threatened the very fabric of the state was in 1981, when the country’s Guardia Civil had attempted a coup d’état by storming the Congress of Deputies during a vote to elect a socialist prime minister. At the time, then-King Juan Carlos denounced the coup and the issue was settled by the following day.
This time around it was clear that the crisis would not be solved so quickly or with ease.
“In the short term the worst case scenario may have been avoided with this ambiguous declaration,” said Jose Javier Olivas Osuna, professor of Spanish politics at the London School of Economics. “But it will take years to rebuild the burned bridges in Catalan society and Spanish politics.”
The announcement followed a fast-moving week in which various factions in Catalonia’s independence dispute made their voices heard loud and clear. Waves of protests, both pro-independence and pro-unionist crashed onto the city streets. Meanwhile political fragmentation was rupturing both the pro-separatists and the pro-unionist side of the debate. The looming prospect of a massive exodus of the region’s leading businesses meanwhile threatened to break the Catalan economy, which is roughly the size of Portugal’s.
The Puigdemont speech was postponed for an hour as the various parties supporting independence argued among themselves about whether or not to immediately declare a breakaway state.
The international community has also played its role in attempting to mediate the conflict. German Prime Minister Angela Merkel has called for the dispute to be resolved with dialogue. In the meantime, France, which would likely be Catalonia’s principal trading partner, said that it would not recognize an independent Catalan state.
During his speech, Puigdemont was not exactly clear as to who would mediate any potential negotiation with the Rajoy government in Madrid, although he noted that the Elders, a group of statesmen that includes Desmond Tutu and former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan had called for a mediated settlement of the dispute.
This was likely welcome news to the many in Catalonia who prefer a negotiated solution. “It’s not the time for a train wreck,” said Ada Colau, 42, Barcelona’s first woman mayor, who implored all sides to mediate their differences. “It’s time for dialogue, to imagine new roads.”