Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Crackdown is Ballot Question in Spain's Election

By Henry Srebrnik [Fredericton, NB] Daily Gleaner

The rise in Catalan nationalism over the past two decades has led to overly repressive measures taken by the Spanish government.

Spain is going to the polls this coming Sunday and the outcome will depend in large part on how voters react to the days of unrest which have swept Barcelona and other Catalan cities after Spain’s Supreme Court on October 14 sentenced nine Catalan separatist leaders to lengthy jail terms over a failed 2017 independence bid.

The vote for independence in a referendum two years ago, though successful, was quashed by the central government in Madrid and its leaders arrested.

The longest prison term, 13 years, went to the former deputy leader of the Catalan regional government, Oriol Junqueras, head of the secessionist ERC (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya – Republican Left of Catalonia).

 “The road of self-determination is a dead end,” claimed Spain’s Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, speaking recently at a rally near Barcelona, as the leader of the Catalan branch of the party, Miquel Iceta, stood beside him.

He might be proven wrong, if the number of Catalan flags flying in Barcelona is any indication -- something I took note of when in the city last June.

Large protests erupted in Barcelona and other cities after the verdicts. On Oct. 24 some 350,000 people rallied in Barcelona in support of the separatist leaders.

Catalonia’s current pro-independence president, Quim Torra, criticized the arrests and has called for a new independence referendum within two years.

Torra was voted into office in 2018 by the JxCat (Junts per Catalunya – Together for Catalonia), an electoral alliance created by former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, and the ERC.

Puigdemont, who fled the country and now lives in Belgium as a fugitive, has stated that Catalans were victims of a “strategy of repression and revenge.”

Catalan politics remained remarkably stable until 1999 in terms of party competition and parliamentary balance.

The party system was dominated by the CiU (Convergència i Unio – Convergence and Union), while the main opposition party was the PSC (Partit dels Socialistes de Catalunya – Socialists’ Party of Catalonia).

But in 2000, the PSC launched a proposal to reform the 1979 Statute of Autonomy, which provided Catalonia with a large measure of self-government. Their goal was to reinforce political collaboration with the secessionist ERC.

Following elections in 2003 the CiU, which had governed Catalonia since 1980, lost power to a PSC-ERC coalition.

The reform was approved by referendum a year later and whetted the appetite of nationalists wanting to go further; they saw their chance following the 2008 financial crisis in Spain. Today, the idea of Catalan sovereignty has captured the loyalty of a large percentage of Catalans.

The response has been a new and strengthened Spanish nationalism. Sanchez has spoken out vehemently against Catalan independence in order to win the general election. But parties on his right that have adopted an even stronger stance are gaining.

The PP (Partido Popular – People’s Party) has called for a national security law which would allow Madrid to take control of Catalonia’s regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra. Others want direct rule. Where this will end is anyone’s guess, but it won’t be pleasant.

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