Catalan independence supporters in Barcelona, September 2015
Albert Gea / Reuters

On October 14, Spain’s Supreme Court sentenced several leaders of the Catalonian separatist movement to lengthy prison terms for their role in organizing a controversial independence referendum two years ago. What followed seemed, in some ways, like a tragic replay of the failed 2017 secession bid: protests erupted in Barcelona, some descending into vandalism; riot police manhandled peaceful protesters; and Catalonia was left without a clear path to resolving its differences with the central government.

Little, in other words, has changed in the two years since Madrid declared the referendum illegal and temporarily dissolved Catalonia’s regional government. Until recently, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and his center-left Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) ruled out any and all dialogue with the pro-independence Catalan leaders. After an election in early November, Sánchez moderated his stance somewhat—a concession to the far-left party Podemos and to pro-independence members of the Spanish parliament

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  • LAIA BALCELLS is Provost’s Distinguished Associate Professor at Georgetown University and the author of Rivalry and Revenge: The Politics of Violence during Civil War (Cambridge University Press, 2017).
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