Spain's king calls for unity after Catalan drive for independence

Wed, Sep 19, 2012, 01:00

KING JUAN Carlos has made an unprecedented online appeal for Spaniards to unite, in a message seen as an attempt to cool a Catalan push for independence.

In his first such use of the royal family’s newly revamped website, the king posted a short text yesterday which said: “ . . . we will only overcome the current difficulties by acting together, walking together, uniting our voices, pulling in the same direction.”

In a reference to the country’s severe economic crisis, which has left it with a jobless rate of 25 percent, he added: “We are in a decisive moment for the future of Europe and Spain.”

But the missive moved into more political, and controversial, territory by apparently criticising a campaign by Catalan nationalists for independence from Spain.

“In these circumstances, the worst thing we can do is divide our forces, encourage dissent, chase chimeras, and deepen wounds,” it read, adding that it is time “to defend the democratic and social model we have all chosen”.

On September 11th, hundreds of thousands of Catalans took to the streets of Barcelona in a pro-independence march organised by a grassroots nationalist group.

Catalan premier Artur Mas is due to meet the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, in Madrid tomorrow to discuss the possibility of giving the northern region more control over its finances. Mr Mas has offered support to the independence drive.

A spokesman for the Catalan region’s government said it was “offering solutions and in no way chasing chimeras”.

The king’s words were also seen to be alluding to a more general swell of social unrest in Spain as the economic crisis deepens and the possibility of a sovereign bailout looms. On Saturday, thousands gathered in Madrid to protest against the conservative government’s austerity programme.

Some politicians praised the king’s words. But José Luis Centella, of the Plural Left coalition, labelled the message “an attempt to impose a single way of thinking”.

Mainstream Basque nationalist Josu Erkoreka also questioned the text, saying the king had failed to highlight the importance of values such as “diversity, tolerance, and respect for the dissenter and free democratic expression”.

The king has been popular among Spaniards due in great part to the key role he played in the transition to democracy in the late 1970s, but his image has suffered in recent times.