The Catalan Crisis, One Year Later

Can the Deadlock Over Independence Be Resolved?

Spanish unionist protestors march in support of a speech given by Spainish King Felipe, in Barcelona, October 2018.  Albert Gea / REUTERS

It was a year ago this month that Catalans voted to break away from Spain and create the Republic of Catalonia. Although 90 percent of those who participated in the referendum endorsed independence, only the Catalan government and those who voted in favor of it took the results seriously. Madrid declared the referendum illegal, based on a ruling from the Constitutional Court, while the European Union and the rest of the international community, including the United States, ignored the results. Most important, perhaps, the bulk of those opposed to Catalan independence boycotted the vote, effectively denying the referendum any legitimacy. These setbacks did not deter Catalan separatists from declaring independence a few weeks after the vote, on October 28, prompting Madrid to revoke Catalonia’s autonomy statute, prosecute those who authorized the referendum, and order new elections in the region.

Despite the advent of new political leadership in Barcelona and Madrid, Catalonia has remained politically deadlocked since the aborted attempt at independence. The separatist coalition of parties managed to hang on to power in last December’s regional elections, but received only 47 percent of the vote. Indeed, the party that received the most votes was Ciudadanos, or Citizens, an ardent opponent of Catalan independence. In June, a new Spanish prime minister, the leader of the Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), Pedro Sánchez, was sworn in, and he pledged to find a way out of the current stalemate in Catalonia. But he is steadfast in his opposition to independence, as was his conservative predecessor, Mariano Rajoy, of the Popular Party (PP). Sánchez’s only concession to the separatists was to allow for the transfer of 12 Catalan officials being prosecuted for rebellion to prisons in Catalonia.

None of this is to say that nothing of consequence has happened in Catalonia since the referendum. In fact, a lot has. And although much of the ensuing developments points to why Catalan independence remains a quixotic struggle, there are also glimmers of hope for resolving the crisis.

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