The Catalan Independence Movement Begins Its Next Chapter 3


On 16 March, thousands of supporters of Catalan independence marched through the Spanish capital, Madrid, to protest the ongoing trial of 12 separatist leaders. Demonstrators, many from Catalonia, peacefully marched through Madrid, carrying signs with messages such as “self-determination is not a crime.” They also called for a new vote on secession to replace the one from 2017. That referendum was marked by a severe police crackdown and heightened tensions between Barcelona and Madrid. Saturday’s march was organized by more than 60 civil society groups from all over Spain. According to the protestors, the turnout was 120,000, while the police gave a much lower figure of 18,000.

Carles Puigdemont, the former Catalan president, who is currently living in Belgium under self-imposed exile tweeted: “Today in Madrid there will be a representation of a people that progress in peace and solidarity, which wants more and better democracy, and which demands its right to exist and to be respected. Today will be a memorable day!” Al-Jazeera journalist David Chater who was at the demonstration said, “I think it’s a fair judgment to say you’ve never heard the voice of Catalan independence spoken so loudly and with so many numbers here in Madrid.”

It is certainly praiseworthy and commendable that the demonstration did not result in any violent confrontation between the protestors and law enforcement. In comparison to the injuries sustained by both protestors and police in the aftermath of the 2017 referendum, the Saturday protests were miraculously non-violent. However, one must maintain a certain cautious optimism about these unfolding events. The political situation in Spain has rapidly intensified, with a political crisis not seen since the financial crisis of 2008-2014. It is not unthinkable that an outburst of violence could take place within the foreseeable future.

The heart of the political crisis is, of course, the mentioned 2017 referendum. The referendum approved by the Catalan parliament on 6 September 2017 was declared illegal the next day by the Constitutional Court of Spain. Madrid argued that the referendum was a violation of the Spanish constitution, which emphasizes the “indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation.” The vote was ultimately carried out on 1 October, with some 92 per cent of voters wanting independence and the establishment of a republican form of government (albeit with a turnout of only 43 per cent). Besides the poor turnout, several polling stations were closed off due to the police crackdown.

In the aftermath of the referendum, several events transformed it into a moment worthy of global attention. Firstly, the King of Spain Felipe VI called the referendum illegal and described the situation as “extremely serious,” a major break of protocol for a constitutional monarchy. Secondly, the Catalan parliament unilaterally declared independence on 27 October, thus solidifying the divide between Barcelona and Madrid. Thirdly, Carles Puigdemont, who had become the face of the independence movement sought refuge in the EU’s de facto capital Brussels.

Over these past two years, politics in Spain and Catalonia has been dynamic. While the sentiments surrounding Catalan independence have existed since the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), it is recently that this political issue has come to the fore of Spanish politics. With a general election taking place in April, low approval of Spanish President Pédro Sanchez (36.1 per cent, December 2018), and the rise of the far-right party Vox, the politics of the Iberian nation is undergoing extraordinary change. Although Brexit in the United Kingdom and the Yellow Vest movement in France currently dominate headlines in European politics, it is crucial that attention is paid towards their southern neighbor.

Spencer A. Wong

Spencer is a graduate student at The George Washington University, studying Security Policy Studies.He is interested in European domestic politics and international relations and the political dynamics of the Asia-Pacific region.

About Spencer A. Wong

Spencer is a graduate student at The George Washington University, studying Security Policy Studies. He is interested in European domestic politics and international relations and the political dynamics of the Asia-Pacific region.

3 thoughts on “The Catalan Independence Movement Begins Its Next Chapter

  • Ruth F.

    “It is certainly praiseworthy and commendable that the demonstration did not result in any violent confrontation between the protestors and law enforcement. In comparison to the injuries sustained by both protestors and police in the aftermath of the 2017 referendum, the Saturday protests were miraculously non-violent. However, one must maintain a certain cautious optimism about these unfolding events. The political situation in Spain has rapidly intensified, with a political crisis not seen since the financial crisis of 2008-2014. It is not unthinkable that an outburst of violence could take place within the foreseeable future.”

    Hi Spencer, I must say that this whole paragraph is misleading, and I would like to offer some pointers.

    It is praiseworthy that there was no violence, however, this sentence implies a precedent that hasn’t existed. Catalans have been marching and protesting peacefully for decades against Spanish oppression and for self-determination. They have demonstrated more intensely and steadily during the past 10 years, in which they have carried out many demonstrations, some with 1 or 2 million people without as much as a piece of paper on the ground.

    The violence you witnessed from October 1st 2017 set a precedent for the Spanish government and its police, which attacked its own citizens, the same ones it claims it wants to keep as part of a united Spain, yet it beats them with clubs and threatens them with outrageous jail sentences. Some of the Catalan civilians attacked on that day where senior citizens. You see, Catalonia has desired democracy for a very long time, when Franco died, we embraced our civil right to vote, and we have participated in elections peacefully for over 40 years. Election day typically happens on Sundays, and those are always happy festive days for the whole family to participate. October 1st was no different to us, that is until the police showed up and attacked us.

    What you witnessed on October 1st 2017 was violence carried out by the Spanish police on Catalan citizens who simply have wanted to vote on a referendum for independence for too long. On that day there were over 1,000 injured Catalans. Any injuries on police forces were the result of their own violent campaign to stop the referendum at all cost. Sometimes karma hits you back instantly.

    So, when you say Saturday’s protest was miraculously non-violent, you are assuming we are a violent people. Here you could not be more mistaken. Clearly, you have never visited Catalonia or met anyone from a pro-indy association. Our whole shtick is peace, we do not have armed forces, we strive to win this democratically, because in 2019, it is about time that anyone in the world can solve a conflict peacefully.

    Lastly, I do not know where you get the idea that a violent confrontation could happen in the future. In such a scenario, Catalans would undoubtedly be crushed, and that would be a detonant to be expelled from the EU, since no EU country is allowed to attack their own civilians with military force.

    Sincerely,
    Ruth F.

  • Spencer A. Wong Post author

    Hi Ruth,

    Thank you for your comments. I must admit, I am not an expert on Spanish politics or of the full history of the Catalan independence movement. However, I am merely commenting on the fact that this story is taking place during a fairly unstable moment in Spanish politics, and European Union politics more generally. Given how unexpectedly violent events surrounding the Yellow Vests movement have been, I am uncertain how events in Spain (regarding the Catalan issue) could unfold. Though comparing these two movements could be like comparing apples to oranges, events in France I fear could set a precedent for future protest events in Europe.

  • Ruth F.

    “I must admit, I am not an expert on Spanish politics or of the full history of the Catalan independence movement. However, I am merely commenting on the fact that this story is taking place during a fairly unstable moment in Spanish politics, and European Union politics more generally. Given how unexpectedly violent events surrounding the Yellow Vests movement have been, I am uncertain how events in Spain (regarding the Catalan issue) could unfold. Though comparing these two movements could be like comparing apples to oranges, events in France I fear could set a precedent for future protest events in Europe.”

    Hi Spencer.
    I am going to try to respond to your comment as constructively as possible. I have a daughter in college, and I don’t want my comments to be too negative, or to discourage you from pursuing knowledge on subjects outside of your comfort zone.

    I can’t help but point out that I find it interesting that you wrote an entire article on Catalan independence, yet you claim to not be “an expert on Spanish politics or of the full history of the Catalan independence movement”. I would suggest in the future you ask for advice, or that you reach out to any the thousands of people fighting for Catalan independence daily on social networks, including Twitter, and who would be extremely happy to give you as much information as you need.

    This story is not merely happening at a time of unstable Spanish politics, for it is precisely the Catalan independence movement that has brought to light to the world the inconsistencies of Spain, its failed democracy, and its rampant corruption that has affected all areas of the government and daily life.

    The repression happening against anyone that dares to speak against the government is reaching scary levels. Are you aware of the neo fascism wave sweeping all over Europe? And have you stopped to think that perhaps Catalonia is striving to separate from a country that still keeps a fascist dictator (Franco) in a mausoleum for all to honor? Spain is a country that still honors Franco time torturers, keeps civil war victim bodies in unmarked graves on road ditches, and that has jailed 3 teenagers for 860 days in Altsasu for a bar fight. Spain is also the same country that allowed the rapists from La Manada to basically walk free after gang raping an 18 year old girl during the running of the bulls.

    If you are uncertain of how events could unfold in Catalonia based on what you have seen in the Gillets Jaunes, the least you could do is analyze who is instigating violence in Catalonia, not simply assume it must come from the pro-indy movement or that because we’re so close to France, anything could happen. Again, more careful analysis was needed here, and you would have found out that the state sponsored violence is to blame for the violence. Also, the “unionists” (people that don’t want Catalonia to become independent) have resorted to tactics of intimidation and aggression with total impunity, because those who should prosecute them also don’t want Catalonia to leave.

    Finally, the Gillets Jaunes movement has been going on for many months, if Catalans had the desire to apply violence to their movement, they would have already done so.

    Again, I must repeat what I said in my last message, the Catalan process is all about finding a peaceful and democratic solution to a conflict that would historically have required violence.

    Thanks for the opportunity to provide my feedback.
    Ruth F.

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