Timeline Of The Catalonia Crisis

The year closes on a grim note for the Spanish government beset by insurrection. Catalan protestors took to streets on Saturday, 18th of December, in protest against a legal mandate hiking Spanish medium education in the region by 25%. The fulmination comes on the high tide of a secessionist movement active since at least 2015.

The fault lines in Spain are a-quaking, with secessionism gathering heat. Contrary to popular hope that the tide would ebb, 2022 portends a very different future: one of anarchy, animosity, and cross-regional antipathy. Let us turn back time to comprehend the milestones enroute Spain’s worst political upheaval this century.

Catalonia is one of Spain’s most affluent regions, with significant autonomy in internal matters given its historical antagonism to the Spanish speaking majority. During its long history, Catalonia has suffered such indignities as Francisco Franco’s authoritarian rule in the last century that sought to obliterate all cultural peculiarities of the region vis-à-vis the rest of Spain, not the least of which was suppression of the Catalan language. The modern-day fracas hinges on such issues as Catalonia’s reluctance to accommodate the comparative economic backwardness of the rest of Spain, and influence of other separatist movements in Europe.

A Spanish Constitution (1978) was enacted following Francisco’s demise and it granted liberal regional autonomy so long as the Spanish State was suzerain, with most Catalans acquiescing to it. Over the last 40 or so years, however, Catalonian nationalism has flowered, and demands for independence, as reparation for alleged constitutional and legal discrimination against Catalan culturalism, have hit a new crescendo.

In many ways, a 2010 order revoking greater autonomy granted to the region just 4 years  prior, served to push Catalonian resentment to the fore. By 2014, Catalonians had sat through an unofficial referendum over the issue of independence to demonstrate the seriousness of their demands to the powers that be at Madrid. The latter, of course, refused to relent. Catalonia’s right to carry out a referendum was denounced time and again from this point on.

The regional elections of 2015 brought the separatists to power under Puigdemont, and they set out to actualize all their convictions regarding the future of Catalonia. It is to be noted that the larger conflict was not an impulsive, idealistic demand for self-determination and nationhood, born out of swaying ambitions of political leaders, and rather the long-game of Spain’s diversity in terms of politico-economic arrangement, language, class, and wealth. Spain was battling itself out over a plethora of internal contradictions, threatening to come apart at the seams. It is true that economic slowdown at Madrid in the previous years, too, was brewing a wealthier Catalonia to insurrection against Spanish suzerainty.

Image source: BBC

Come 2017, the separatists called for a full referendum. With much debate over whether or not the 43% voter turnout truly reflected the average Catalonian’s desire for secession, the referendum was declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court at Madrid. The separatists paid no heed, moving ahead with declaration of independence on October 27th. This marks a turning point in our narrative: The Spanish clampdown that followed is exemplary of states worldwide failing to pacify insurrectionists through contained reason and negotiation, instead aggravating them further with the use of unconstrained force and violence.

Almost immediately, emergency was declared, the leaders of Catalonia arrested, and the autonomous parliament at Barcelona disbanded. Madrid acquired direct control of the region with abrogation of old privileges. Catalonian protestors were met with armed brutality, broadcasts of which only added fuel to the fire of secessionism. While Puigdemont escaped the country, most other separatists were sentenced by the Supreme Court of Spain, all of which brings us to present day: Protests, protests, and more protests have colored Spain’s 2021, and the situation barely plateaus before deteriorating once more.

In June of this year, heavy crowds flooded the streets in protest against a judicial decision to pardon the leaders of the secessionist movement. The decision came on the heels of more attempts at amicable resolution later in the year. It is quite clear that the high-tables at Madrid and Barcelona might wish to patch up the politics of the past, but sentiment driven mass memory is more reluctant to ‘forgive and forget’. Thus, the protests in September when the incumbent Socialist Workers’ Party dangled the possibility of negotiation in front of Catalonians in the form of Madrid talks. That the Catalonian belief in independence had taken a hit became overt in the greatly reduced number of marchers against the move. Nevertheless, hope for more, if not complete, autonomy remains the dominant sentiment at Barcelona.

Only as recently as Saturday, the Catalonians reportedly flocked the streets in defense of Catalan medium education. An apparent imposition of Spanish in school textbooks has seemingly induced flashback of Franco’s dictatorial era in the Catalonian worldview. But the law itself has flared out of a number of students and their families alleging discrimination after they requested for more Spanish to be taught in school curriculum. To Catalonia, that was stripped of all constitutionally mandated autonomy in the blink of an eye, the move elicits much pain and yearning for self-preservation. Business Standard quoted one Escuder, activist and Catalan aficionado, It is not proper of a democracy that a court invalidates an educational system that is supported by society and its parliament.’ It also appears that regional politicos are rallying around the issue of Catalan to fan the flame of Catalonian nationalism. Mother tongue being a sensitive issue, neither side is willing to relent and the house stands hung.

In conclusion: Catalonians, on the one hand, are unlikely to back down on their stirring demands unless absolutely assured of cultural protectionism and significant economic advantage in any treaty aimed at unity. On the other hand, neither of these seem top of the cards for Madrid because the Spanish prejudice against Catalan in the wake of several years of secessionism is unlikely to die down soon; and the general opinion in Spain is also strongly against the purported economic privilege that Barcelona enjoys.

The kind of negotiation that emerges to conciliate this polarization remains to be seen; if done correctly, it might prove a valuable lesson to the rest of the Europe as well.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team

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Samya Verma

Samya Verma is an Intern at The Kootneeti

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