Catalonian Separatism Re-Energized in Spain

On Nov. 4 as King Felipe VI rode through the colorful streets of Girona, a major city in Catalonian. Felipe was traveling to help officiate the Princess of Girona Awards. Amidst the pageantry inside the event, Catalonian nationalists surrounded the ceremony, burning pictures of Felipe and blocked the entrance.  

Felipe is a controversial figure in Spain’s eastern state of Catalonia, not just because he is the figurehead of Spain, but also because of his lackluster response to the 2017 Catalonian independence referendum. Time reports that two years ago, Felipe gave a speech urging peace in Catalonia after separatist leaders held an unsanctioned independence referendum. The Spanish government cracked down on this vote by dissolving the Catalonian regional government, arresting separatist leaders and violently dispersing protesters. To many Catalonians, Felipe’s comments added insult to injury. 

Felipe’s visit also aligns with the October sentencing of nine separatist politicians to terms of nine to thirteen years in prison, according to The New York Times. In ensuing protests and riots over 500 people have been injured in the past few months, half of whom are police officers.

In response to the decision to jail the nine over half a million people filled the streets of Barcelona in October. There have also been several attempts to block a major highway into France, the most recent occurred on Nov. 12 when 200 demonstrators shut down the highway for 15 hours. 

Despite the general unrest in Catalonia polls show that only around half of Catalonians want independence, which poses a problem for the already fractious independence parties. Quim Torra, the president of the Catalonian regional government, has stated that his separatist party is in support of another referendum.

However, the socialist-led government of Spain headed by Pedro Sánchez has no interest in a Catalonian referendum according to Reuters. After the Spanish election earlier this month when the Socialist Party failed to gain a large enough majority to form a government, it seemed as though Sánchez would form a coalition with the Catalonian separatist parties. The talks between the two blocks broke down after two weeks since Sanchez still staunchly refuses to hold an independence referendum similar to the officially sanctioned Scottish independence vote in 2014.  

Addressing Catalonian independence The Washington Post quoted Sánchez: “any solution regarding the region’s future requires ‘a wide consensus that right now doesn’t exist in Catalonia.’” The elephant in the room for these ill-fated negotiations between the separatists and socialists was the sentencing of the Catalan independence leaders and the Spanish government’s ongoing attempts to extradite other Catalan leaders who have fled to other countries in the European Union. From the beginning, a coalition between these two groups was doomed to fail. 

The conservative opposition in Spain contrasting with the Catalan separatists has called for stronger measures in the region. The Spanish government has demanded that those in the Catalan assembly distance themselves from radical separatists while conservative parties have called for direct rule over Catalonia and claim that Sánchez is too weak. With political division in Catalonia and the Spanish capital, it is unclear whether anything will come of this bout of violence in this centuries long-simmering conflict.

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