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The Maastricht Diplomat

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A Catalonian Crisis Timeline

As we are well aware, or should be, this turn of events in Catalonia is a cause for consternation in Europe. With the rise of nationalism across the globe, and especially across Europe from East to West, in a nation as internationally prominent as Spain where a conflict as old and as contentious as this, the arguments both for and against independence should make us stop and possibly re-evaluate what it means to identify ourselves.

However, at this point in time where the furor has slowed down and due process of law is beginning to take over, it might be a good time for us to take a step back and go over what has happened up until this time of writing. On October 1, the Catalonian government of President Carles Puigdemont held a referendum with regards to Catalonian independence from Spanish rule. The results were contentious, with a 90% Yes vote but only a 42% voter turnout. To compound the contentiousness, there was what is generally viewed as an unnecessarily harsh crackdown from La Guardia Civil, with ballot points being shut down and many Catalonians being forcibly removed from the areas. The Spanish government and monarchy condemned the election as well as the result, with most of the international community following suit. Over the course of the next two weeks, while the results were tallied and courses of action decided upon, there were strikes and protests held all over Barcelona against police brutality, with strong words from both sides, including threats of the removal of autonomy by the Spanish authorities. In response to this, on the 10th of October President Puigdemont declared independence for Catalonia but then rescinded it very quickly and proceeded to call for dialogue between Barcelona and Madrid in order to resolve the growing political and social crisis.

The next week proved to be a turning point in the political process. On the 16th of October, Madrid arrested two men, Jordi Cuixart of the Omnium Cultural and Jordi Sanchez of the National Catalan Assembly (both grassroots organisations that helped plan secessionist events), on charges of sedition for separatist activities. This was followed by an immediate backlash from Barcelona residents, with cries of politically motivated arrests. The week was highlighted by threats back and forth between Catalonian President Puigdemont and Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy, of dialogue and the enactment of Article 155. This article of the Spanish Constitution, which allows the immediate removal of autonomy from a region, has often been called the nuclear option in Spanish politics. What it stands for, of course, has historical significance in the context of the balance of power between Madrid and Barcelona. By the end of the third week of the crisis, the Spanish Senate votes in favour of the use of Article 155, with the reasoning of four main points:

● The return to legality, which dismisses the original referendum.

● The recovery of normality and co-existence between Spain and Catalonia.

● A continuation of the recovery of the economy of the nation, which has been in arrears for a number of years and to which Catalonia contributes a large part.

● The allowance of a regional election in the near future, under “normal political circumstances”.

This concluded with the agreement for the dissolution of the Catalonian government by the Spanish Senate. Five days later, at the same time the Catalonian government is formally fired by the national authorities, Puigdemont and his government declare independance with the words “We take this step on our feet, with our heads held high. Not on our knees like subjects, but as free people without fear”.

It was at this point that the conversation on nationalism really became prominent, with arguments coming in thick and fast from all sides. Of course, there is the nationalistic argument for Catalonia itself. Here is a region that, according to the representational government of Puigdemont, desires independence from its ruling authority. This is a classic case of nationalism. However, it does differ from the more sinister form of nationalism touted by actors such as Trump and Le Pen, where exclusion is a strong argument. Puigdemont et al are looking for independence and recognition of a people and a culture, without excluding or fostering rejection of Spanish-ness. Parallels can be drawn to the Scottish independence movement spearheaded by Nicola Sturgeon. Accordingly, Sturgeon is one of the few vocal supporters of Puigdemont while many larger names including President Emmanuel Macron of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, two of the strongest players in European politics, openly rejected Catalonian claims of independence and fired back with Unionist rhetoric. The government of the United Kingdom as well as the European Commission itself are also aligned with the stance of the Spanish government.

The French region of Occitane, which borders Catalonia and so is directly affected by the politics of the region, called for dialogue between Madrid and Barcelona amid declarations of a new election for the Catalonian government at the end of the year by Madrid. This was followed, on the 29th of October, by the largest pro-unity protests yet in Barcelona. The week following the formal declaration of independence concluded with a statement by the Catalonian Vice-President Oriol Junqueras: “The Catalonian Republic was born, not with the strength we wanted, but through the legitimacy of the vote” and condemned Article 155 as a “coup d’etat” for the Spanish in this battle for the balance of power.

It was at this point, on October 29th, that the Belgian government offered political asylum to the charged Catalonian government. The next day, this same government is formally charged with rebellion and sedition and Puigdemont publicly declares his whereabouts as in Belgium. The next week proved to be a week full of legal and political maneuverings; from Puigdemont and four other ex-ministers having international arrest warrants sent out, the Belgian government stating that the five Catalonians do not have asylum but will rather be treated as every other European citizen, and Puigdemont handing himself in to Belgian police and subsequently being released on bail, to Barcelona demanding release of Mr Cuixart and Mr Sanchez due their being unacceptably held as political prisoners. The two men were not released but Ms Carmen Forcadell, a top Catalonion lawmaker, was charged with rebellion and then released on bail. This turn of events from Madrid has sent an unambiguous message to Catalonia, that they are following the Spanish lawbook as closely as possible, without considering (at this point in time) any chance for dialogue between the two sides. This has lead to Mr Puigdemont publically criticising, on his release from Belgian custody, the Spanish legal system; “The EU cannot have political prisoners or a legitimate parliament dissolved via a Spanish government decree” and that it “cannot have an entire government in exile or prison”.

This detente is where we find ourselves today, at the time of writing. It is unsure in which direction the tale will unfold, especially with opposition leaders effectively in exile and some members already in custody under charges of rebellion, but it is clear that whatever does happen, will have enormous consequences all over Europe with regards to action in accordance to law and order. Follow us at The Diplomat for coverage of the situation and key players involved.


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