The unfolding current crisis in Catalunya
Manny Gonzalez (The Philippine Star) - October 18, 2017 - 4:00pm

(Part 2 of Catalunya Independence Crisis Explained)

After Franco died, in 1978 the Spanish government was reorganized as a parliamentary monarchy. In Catalunya, the new Constitution was ratified by 95% of voters. So the Catalans today can hardly claim that the Constitution, in which they agreed to be part of Spain, was rammed down their throat.

Thus began a period of unprecedented prosperity and stability for Spain. It joined the European Union in 1986 and today is the EU’s fifth-largest economy. Catalunya has progressed in step.

Nonetheless, Catalan independence seems to be an idea that just won't go away. For the past decade, some Catalunyan leaders have steadily promoted the idea that they both deserved to be independent, and would be far better off economically if they were. Both ideas have had ready buyers, but the reasoning is badly flawed. (We'll get back to that later.)

Thus, whereas previous Catalan independence movements (starting in the 17th century) were Leftist, the current movement seems to be in large part Ultra-Rightist (though the far Left, for its own reasons, is also separatist). Why is this important? Because some Catalans today think they are continuing a centuries-long fight for self-determination, when in fact their “cause” is entirely new, consisting of greed and a longing for a past Catalunyan Golden Age that never was.

In 2006 the Catalans passed their own Constitution, which hardly seems necessary unless you're planning to secede.

A “non-binding” independence referendum was held in 2014. On a turnout that was below 50%, about 90% of voters favored independence. That's according to Catalunya’s government, which never allowed an independent count of the ballots. The figure could have been totally fabricated, for all anyone knew, and even so was far less resounding than the 1978 vote by which the Catalans approved the idea of being part of Spain.

In the 2015 elections, for the first time there was a pro-independence majority in Catalunya’s regional Parliament – but not by much, perhaps 72-63. The national government should have paid more attention to this election, but perhaps was too complacent, never believing that separatists would forge a majority coalition.

In 2017 Catalunya’s majority coalition grew increasingly frustrated with the national government’s refusal to take their independence bid seriously, and now called for a “binding” referendum, to be held on October 1, 2017. The national government and national courts ruled this referendum illegal, since it is patently outside the framework of the Spanish Constitution passed in 1978, contrary even to Catalunya’s own laws which required a – majority of their Parliament, but the Catalunyan government went ahead anyway.

The national government brought in police and tried to prevent the referendum altogether, which proved to be a serious mistake, evocative of the Franco period. Catalans turned out in large numbers to vote, though even more of them stayed home. October 1 was marked by images of what appeared to be police brutality, which drew sympathy for the separatists from many quarters.

On the other hand, the Catalan government declared that people could vote wherever they wanted, and no one would verify their name against any voter list, which sounds suspiciously like an open admission that the vote would be cooked. By 8 p.m., a surprisingly short span of time after the polls closed, the Catalan government announced that 92% had voted for independence, on an anemic 43% turnout.

As before, there was no independent verification of the vote count, just a “take our word for it.” Later, Spanish national police would release to the public an intercepted telephone conversation from a senior member of the Catalunya government, who is now being investigated for sedition. The gist of the conversation, which took place early on referendum day, was “Don't worry, whatever the actual results, we have 1 million more Yes ballots ready.” Filipinos have nothing over the Catalans.

On October 3, the separatists called for a general strike to protest police brutality. Hundreds of thousands of Catalans participated, and Barcelona was shut down for the day. That evening, the King of Spain addressed the nation, slamming the separatists, who in turn slammed him.

On October 8, Catalans opposed to separation finally got energized and called for a rally in favor of Spanish unity. Hundreds of thousands participated. Apparently, all along there were lots of people who were quite happy to remain Spanish, but felt intimidated by the very vocal and very aggressive separatists.

In the meantime, big businesses in Catalunya started announcing that they were moving their social (and in some cases fiscal) headquarters out of Catalunya. Six out of the seven Catalan companies that are components of Spain’s Ibex 35 stock market index left in just a few days after October 1. These included the only two big Catalan banks remaining, afraid of a run on deposits if Catalunya should actually become independent and they were caught headquartered in a location outside the European Union.

Barcelona’s largest industry is tourism. Hotels started reporting significant drops in their expected occupancy, with estimated drops of between 20-50% compared with the same months in 2016. Catalunya’s leaders just yawned.

The Futbol Club de Barcelona initially declared that if Catalunya became independent, it would simply quit La Liga and start playing in a different league, maybe the Premier League. A few days later, probably after being told they weren't welcome anywhere else, FCB recanted and said its future was inextricably intertwined with La Liga. Whoa! Hundreds of thousands of Catalans, who couldn't care less about banks fleeing or tourists canceling, suddenly had something to fret about.

Despite clear evidence that they were heading toward an economic abyss, the Catalan separatists continued undismayed. On October 10 the Catalan president announced the region’s independence, then immediately suspended its effects to allow “dialogue” with the national government. The separatists called on fellow Catalans to paralyze Barcelona again, but this time only a few thousands showed up. The national government, in turn, has repeatedly stated that dialogue is futile since the Catalan idea of dialogue is to repeat like a broken record that full independence is the only thing that will satisfy them.

Be careful what you wish for.

Next: Key questions answered

(The author is  founder of Plantation Bay Resort & Spa and now a part-time foreign correspondent.)

Philstar
  • Latest
  • Trending
Latest
Are you sure you want to log out?
X
Login

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

SIGN IN
or sign in with