Catalonia: chronicle of a tragedy foretold

This weekend will mark a fateful moment in Spain’s worst constitutional crisis since the attempted coup d’état in 1981

The events since the controversial independence referendum organised by the Catalan regional government on October 1st bear all the hallmarks of a chronicle of tragedy foretold.

This weekend will mark a fateful moment in the country’s worst constitutional crisis since the attempted coup d’état in 1981. It is the sad outcome of a mutually irresponsible slow dance of provocation and reaction between Catalan and Spanish nationalism. It is almost certain to end, for the moment, in the Spanish cabinet’s formal suspension of Catalonia’s extensive powers of self-rule tomorrow. That is uncharted and very volatile territory.

ny attempt to restrict the promotion of the Catalan language would be explosive and wrong

We do not know exactly what powers Madrid would assume. Hopefully, the Spanish government will appreciate, for example, the electric sensitivity surrounding the direct administration of education. Any attempt to restrict the promotion of the Catalan language, as some on the Spanish right are urging, would be explosive and wrong.

We do not know how Catalan civil servants, who have been instructed by their own government for 40 years, would receive orders from Madrid, or what Madrid might do should they refuse to obey them. We do not know how the Catalan nationalist street would react. A demonstration has already been called for this weekend to protest against the arrest for sedition of two of the movement’s leaders, and a similar charge against the Catalan chief of police. Hopefully, these demonstrators will not be confronted with the Spanish police and civil guard, deeply unpopular after their unbridled and disastrous use of force against voters in the referendum.


Nor do we know how that other Catalan street, probably a majority, which wants to remain within Spain, will respond. Those who have, with good reason, feared the authoritarian and xenophobic tendencies among some of their nationalist neighbours will be relieved that the independence adventure has been aborted in the short term. But they must avoid triumphalism, and manipulation by the Spanish nationalist hard right.

'They must seek a solution based on dialogue and politics'

Many people, on both sides of the argument, will share the acute confusion, and frustration, expressed by the mayor of the Catalan town of L'Hospitalet, Nuria Marín. She appealed to both Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy and Catalan first minister Carles Puigdemont to step away from the precipice towards which they both appear intent on stumbling. "They must," she said, "seek a solution based on dialogue and politics." Sadly, there is little precedent that either leader will pay her any heed.

Rajoy’s rigid application of the law and the constitution pleases Spanish nationalists, but utterly lacks the imagination that the moment requires. Puigdemont has led his followers into a corner but has no vision to lead them to a better place.