Farewell to Catalonia?

Spain Confronts a Rebellious Region

People wait for the start of the investiture session at the Catalunya Parliament in Barcelona, Spain, January 10, 2016. Albert Gea / Reuters

In mid-January, Catalonia inaugurated a new government that promised to bring independence to this fiercely separatist region of 7.5 million people sandwiched between Spain and France. Perhaps only the Basque Country, where separatist politics are intermingled with violence, terrorism, and even racism (Basque nationalism is rooted in the idea that the Basques are a separate race), matches Catalonia’s desire for nationhood among the regions of Spain, and maybe in all of Europe. Ironically, although the Basque independence struggle is the one that usually captures international headlines, the Catalans have the stronger historical claim for statehood. Catalan nationalism dates to the Middle Ages, when the region existed as the Principality of Catalonia, before it was engulfed into the Kingdom of Aragon and later into the Kingdom of Spain, when the crowns of Aragon and Castile were united in the fifteenth century. Basque separatism, by contrast, dates only to the late nineteenth century, when the Basque nationalist movement was founded, although Basque nationalists tend to dispute this view by tying the contemporary Basque nationalist movement to the fueros, rights and privileges granted by the Spanish monarch to the Basque people going back to feudal times.

For Catalonia’s newly inaugurated government, the stakes could not be higher. It is likely now or never for the proponents of Catalan independence. For the first time since Spain became a democracy in 1978, after four decades of dictatorship under the regime of Generalissimo Francisco Franco (a regime so profoundly antiregional that it banned all symbols of Catalan culture, such as the Catalan language and flag), a political movement laser-focused on independence has won the majority of seats in the Catalan parliament. Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes), a coalition of Catalan parties supportive of independence, won last September’s Catalan regional elections. Upon assuming power, Catalonia’s new premier, Carles Puigdemont, announced plans for the creation of the Republic of Catalonia within 18 months. To underscore the seriousness of his intentions, Puigdemont, in open defiance of tradition and

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