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Crisis in Catalonia

In a momentous move, the Catalan regional parliament in Barcelona has voted for a declaration of independence from Spain. In response, the central government in Madrid has moved to impose direct rule on Catalonia, the prosperous region of northeastern Spain that had previously possessed a degree of autonomy over internal affairs.

Sam Edwards and Julien Toyer report for Reuters:

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont left the [regional parliament] chamber to shouts of “President!” and mayors who had come from outlying areas brandished their ceremonial batons and sang the Catalan anthem “Els Segadors” (The Reapers).

But immediately after news of the vote, which three opposition parties boycotted, Spanish shares and bonds were sold off, reflecting business concern over the turmoil in the wealthy region.

Within an hour, the upper house of Spain’s parliament in Madrid authorized [Spanish prime minister Mariano] Rajoy’s government to rule Catalonia directly . . . 

In Brussels, the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, said the independence vote changed nothing and the EU would only deal with the central government in Madrid.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department said it backed Madrid’s efforts to keep Spain united and Catalonia was an integral part of the country.

The evets of the next few days could cause tensions, already at a near breaking point, to spiral out of control, as Madrid seeks to impose its will on the region — possibly by firing the Barcelona government and placing regional police forces under its direct control.

What happens if Catalan police forces resist the removal of the regional government? Or if the Barcelona government — so far, only advocating “peaceful resistance” — turns to a more active struggle?

Gerald Frost, in an essay in the October 30, 2017, issue of National Review (paywalled), writes that the situation has been made worse in the aftermath of a disputed independence referendum on the first day of October.

In retrospect, it is certainly arguable that Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, could have seen off the separatist challenge by accepting that such was the depth and persistence of feeling on the issue that he would support a change to the constitution that would permit a binding referendum to take place — but with one very important proviso: that a decision in favor of independence would require a majority of 60 percent in a poll in which 60 percent of eligible voters had taken part. The possible benefits of such an approach would have by far outweighed the risks. But public rebukes to the Catalan government play well with the very many Spaniards who feel outraged by its actions. So instead, Rajoy heeded those within his ruling party who believe that Catalonia should be taught a lesson — which only served to increase the numbers of those in pursuit of an impossible dream.

As Frost writes, the Spanish essayist José Ortega y Gasset believed that the Catalan problem was such that “the best that could be hoped for was that the Catalans, and their fellow Spaniards, would recognize the intractable nature of the problem and would consequently avoid rash or unrealistic measures that were bound to bring on disaster.”

But rash and unrealistic measures have been undertaken. And now, it is Spain’s greatest crisis since the end of the Franco dictatorship and the return of democracy 40 years ago.

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