Catalonia Unilaterally Declares Independence Amid Deep Divisions

On Friday, October 27, the Parliament of Catalonia declared independence from Spain by a 70-10 majority with 55 deputies declining to vote and 2 abstaining. Minutes later, the Spanish Senate approved measures of the cabinet, which authorize limitation of the autonomy’s self-rule. The decision to suspend autonomy led to mass rallies across Catalonia.

The declaration of independence of Catalonia is the natural result of the recent referendum, believes Oleg Barabanov, programme director at the Valdai Discussion Club.

The referendum on Catalonia’s independence was held on October 1. A total of 90.18% of the electorate voted for independence at a turnout of 43.03%,.

Independence was not declared immediately, although the law adopted by the Catalan parliament envisages that this was to be done within 48 hours, Barabanov said. The leaders of Catalonia tried to overcome the crisis, but Madrid refused to meet halfway, he added.

“The central government began to threaten Catalan leaders with arrest and imprisonment, imposition of direct rule from Madrid and dismissal of all regional structures. This language of threats and intimidation left no room for negotiations and slammed the door for political settlement,” Barabanov said.

The same is true for the European Union leaders, who have distanced themselves from the situation in Catalonia. “They were silent in the first days after the referendum, they did not condemn police violence, and refused to act as a mediator, something which Catalonians had expected. In the context of threats from Madrid and indifference on the part of Brussels, the Catalan parliament had no other solution than to proclaim independence in accordance with the referendum results,” the expert believes.

But Tatyana Koval, an expert on Spain from the Moscow-based Higher School of Economics, considers what happened in Catalonia an unconstitutional act.

“The referendum was against the Constitution. They had no right to declare independence. Still, I can understand the logic of Catalan separatists: if they step back, they will lose support of their electorate. On the other hand, they have led the situation to a dead end,” Koval said.

She explained that Madrid cannot resort to violence, because this would cause a backlash “among all supporters of democracy.” But Madrid cannot ignore this either, because, according to Koval, “anti-constitutional moves are pure separatism.”

“No one infringed their rights, they have a very broad autonomy, which they can expand even more. But not to secede and to proclaim republic in a monarchy. Spain is a monarchy, actually,” Koval said.

However, according to Barabanov, Catalan independence is now an accomplished fact. “This changes the whole situation, because now the main task for the Catalan leadership is immediate nation building, creation of self-defence forces, reinforcement of the popular police which has de facto been separated from the Spanish police system, and continuation of the negotiations process on the basis of their own statehood,” the Valdai Club programme director concluded.  

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.