Spain: Catalans’ independence bid quashed, for now
Madrid has won, said Silvia Martínez in Barcelona’s El Periódico de Catalunya. Nearly a month after Catalonia voted to secede from Spain in a flawed referendum, the region’s parliament unilaterally declared independence last week. The federal government in Madrid swiftly responded by imposing direct rule on the semiautonomous region, sacking separatist President Carles Puigdemont along with his government and announcing new Catalonian elections in December. For one tense weekend, Spaniards and Catalans alike feared the imposition of federal rule would bring a violent clash. Instead, some 300,000 people flooded Barcelona’s streets for a pro-unity rally, waving Spanish flags and chanting “Viva España.” Rather than honor a trade union’s call for a general strike, nearly all Catalans showed up to work on Monday as usual. Puigdemont—who faces charges of rebellion and sedition— fled to Brussels, but said he won’t ask for political asylum. He declared his support for the new elections, as long as Madrid will “respect the result” if pro-independence parties win a majority.
They won’t, said Madrid’s El Pais in an editorial. The “silent majority” of Catalans are now speaking, and they say Catalonia is “united with its country, Spain, which it has always enriched with its entrepreneurial character, its language, its culture, and its good sense.” There was never a mandate for independence. Puigdemont headed a minority government composed of pro-separatist parties, and his Oct. 1 referendum on secession had a turnout of only 43 percent. The pro-Spain demonstration, coupled with the unwillingness of the region’s public-sector workers to strike, have “destroyed the myth that the Catalan people aspire to break away from Spain.”
Our Catalan leaders made a “grotesque political error” in their weaselly semipronouncement of independence, said Barcelona’s La Vanguardia in an editorial. The parliamentary vote was secret and the measure’s “ambiguous and imprecise” wording did not clearly declare independence—all because lawmakers wanted to shield themselves from prosecution by Madrid. Yet these same politicians proposed “that the masses of citizens defend the new republic with their bodies, in the streets.” How cowardly. We can only hope that Madrid does not take collective vengeance on us all. Someday, perhaps, we’ll look back on this period as a flamarada, “an explosion of folly that, like paper when it comes into contact with fire, gives rise to great flares of emotion that vanish as quickly as they come.”
This peaceful outcome vindicates the strategy of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, said Edurne Uriarte in ABC. Had he declared direct rule over Catalonia before the separatist declaration, the secessionists would have “assumed the mantle of victimhood.” But since he let events play out before finally putting his foot down and averting conflict, he has the gratitude of all. Even with the December vote, of course, the Catalan crisis will not be over. There is no perfect solution to the separatist problem, “only more or less successful ways of managing a permanent conflict.” For now, at least, it is managed. ■