Catalan separatists march in Barcelona on the "Diada de Catalunya," September 2015.
Albert Gea / Reuters

The mounting tensions between Catalan nationalism and the Spanish state are like an encounter between an unstoppable force and an immovable object. The impending crash has been temporarily averted by the decision of Catalan President Carles Puigdemont to suspend declaring independence following Catalonia’s October 1 referendum, in which a majority voted to break away from Spain (the Spanish government has declared the referendum illegal). Without any apparent irony, the separatist newspaper Ara anticipated the coming of independence as “a gradual leap” in the dark.

It is difficult to predict what will emerge from the current dispute. Given the political inflexibility of the Spanish government, and the preference of many businesses based in Catalonia to remain part of Spain, the Catalan government may not be able to realize its commitment to establish an independent nation-state. At the same time, however, Madrid’s heavy-handed response to the referendum has resulted in the

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  • SEBASTIAN BALFOUR is Professor Emeritus of Contemporary Spanish Studies at the London School of Economics.
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