Are we approaching conflict in Catalonia?

Or you see this maybe less dramatically, and why? Read few comments.


Francesc Trillas, Senior Lecturer, Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB)

I believe we are already in a conflict, although so far it is a non-violent conflict.

The Catalan autonomous government is trying to organize (or pretends to be trying to organize, perhaps mainly using it as part of its propaganda machine) an illegal referndum, and the Spanish government and the Courts of Justice are trying to stop it.

This is a conflict.

This conflict is not new, but is living some dramatic moments these days. Independently of what happens on October 1st, the hopefully non-violent conflict will continue. To me, the way forward is to promote a broad-based dialogue to reform the Spanish Constitution to promote a better federal future in a more integrated Europe. It will take time, amb much better politics from all sides.

Joan BotellaProfessor of Political Science, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

I would summarize by saying “the situation is bad but not serious”: a vote is called for October 1st.; it will not take place, or only partially and in a fragmentary way; and none of both sides has a plan or a working program for the following days.

In the separatist side, the reality of the movement is outflanking its leaders, and the regional government. A general strike has been officially called by minoritarian trade-unions, starting on Oct. 3 until Oct. 11, and it will have a large impact on transportation by road and railway;  the Government has imposed a very limited amount of “minimal, mandatory service”, thus amplifying the impact of the strike.

An amount of anarchist groups and militants have come from other parts of Europe, in order to help in creating a new State.

I can continue; not just to make you laugh, but also to make you see that there is no political leadership truly conducting the movement.

And on the Madrid side, passivity and simply applying judicial and police measures. This can make the referendum impossible but does not offer any pathway out of the problem.

I do not foresee a large scale conflict, although there might be nasty incidents here and there; there will be a couple of weeks of unrest and difficulties; and finally, at some point, dialogue will have to start. On which topics and which which actors? This will depend on how things can evolve. We may need some mediation ( Socialist party?; the Podemos / United Left group?; the Crown itself?; Europe?); serious institutional reforms will be needed, maybe not immediately, but in a foreseeable future; and it all will require a change of the guard: new leaders in both sides. Certainly, new elections in Catalonia, and possibly also in Spain.

Luis MorenoResearch Professor, Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), Institute of Public Goods and Policies

The situation is tense and there is already a political conflict. Let us see what happens this coming Sunday, the day of the unilateral and illegal referendum promoted by Catalonia’s government. After this date the situation might get more complicated if Catalonia’s government goes ahead with DUI (Declaration of Unilateral Independence). Secessionists in Catalonia might take some actions of civil disobedience and then an open social conflict could erupt. In any possible future scenario there is a need for political negotiation to find a way to sort out this confrontation.

Paul Anderson, Doctoral Researcher, Vanterbury Christ Church University

I think it unlikely that we will see much if any violent conflict in Catalonia, but unfortunately we cannot rule this out. The actions of the Spanish government in recent days, which includes the suspension of numerous websites related to the referendum, the arrest of numerous officials as well as the transfer of a number of Spanish police offices from the Gurdia Civil to Catalonia, suggests that the crackdown on the referendum may intensify this weekend, thus there is a possibility that things could turn nasty.

It is important to note that the Secessionst movement in Catalonia has consistently been a peaceful, non-violent movement. The  Catalan president, Puigdemont referred to it as a movement carried out in ‘suits and ties’. Since 2012, when the movement started to gain momentum, there has been no outbreak of violence and the Catalans will be keen to avoid this in the future, too. This is also important to gain international support, particularly in the case of a Unilateral Declaration of Independence, because then the Catalans can point to the peaceful, democratic nature of their movement, in contrast with the heavy-handed crackdown coming from Madrid. If police officers prevent citizens from voting this Sunday, we may well see some outbreaks of violence outside some polling stations. A serious violent conflict, I think, is unlikely, but cannot be entirely ruled out.

Lluis Orriols, Associate  Professor, University Carlos III of Madrid 

The central government has in the short run the challenge of bringing the Catalan institutions back to the rule of law. The solutions for this aim would probably be the partial or total abolishment of the catalan devolved powers. This probably fuel more protests, demonstrations among the pro-secessionist side. Therefore, in the short run we should probably expect more confrontation. The resolution of the so called “catalan problem” seem to be far away.

Ramon Pacheco PardoSenior Lecturer, King’s College London

I think that there is a political conflict that will continue for the time being. Neither the Spanish government nor the Catalan regional government wants to back down, a situation which underpins the conflict. There might be some violence in the coming days, since there are those who want to use it on both sides. A case in point is the smashing of police cars by some supporters of independence. Buy I don’t think it will escalate into anything more violent because most Spaniards do not want so. I expect that even the political conflict will eventually give way to negotiations. But we might have to wait for a new government in Catalonia and perhaps even Spain for this to happen.

Francisco Romero SalvadoReader in Modern Spanish History, University of Bristol

I am baffled at the worsening situation in Catalonia. Being myself a Catalan living abroad and a historian (and so aware of the myths and manipulations), I don’t know whether it is worse the attitude of a central government (ignoring and negating the problem until almost last week) or the Orwellian exercise of social engineering orchestrated by Catalan nationalists in office for the last 40 years. To add more bafflement to the situation, one finds the left in Spain and Catalonia siding with nationalism and its lies.

To give credit to who is due, Catalan nationalists have controlled the agenda, something slowly initiated 40 years ago, by subverting very smartly all the powers conferred to them by a constitution (that they despise) and different governments (blind or stupid): from education (schools have become platforms of nationalist education) to propaganda/media (local televisions and newspapers are subsidized or openly controlled by the Catalan government). Millions have been spent in selling the idea abroad that Catalonia is a downtrodden nation and that this is not about independence but about the right to `decide’. In fact, Catalonia has never been an independent state (it was part of the Kingdom of Aragón) and the level self-government is exceptional in the world.

Will there be a conflict?  I hope not. But this is the card sought by Catalan nationalists. They have sought to `internationalize’ the conflict for the last 5 years. Targeting of the offices and centres of non-nationalist parties, insulting people who do not share their ideas, besieging the police when they simply follow judicial orders are portrayed as a coup d’etat. When they are carrying out the coup d’etat. Now, they claim that they follow Catalan legality and not Spanish. As I said before this is Orwellian. I’ll give you an example. Imagine the state of Kansas or the region of Alsacia (etc.), they are given by the central government a lot of devolved authority . They use it to turn the schools into platforms of hatred against Washington or Paris, French or English is practically banned for all public affairs, etc.  At the outset of a major economic crisis, its local government demands fiscal independence because France or USA robs us. Indeed, they are a very rich state or province but they sell 50% of their exports to the rest of the state (always captive markets of their products). When the state says no, they claim the right to decide in a referendum if they want independence. When they are told that the constitution (not only of France and USA but that of almost the entire world) does not allow it, they hold a vote in one day in which they introduce Alsacian legality and claim to respond to international law (Is Kansas a colony?). As I mentioned before, it is Orwellian. But they are winning the dialectic battle vis-a-vis a useless and ignorant central government.

Carsten Humlebæk, Associate professor, Department of International Business Communication, Copenhagen Business School

It seems from the outside that the situation is escalating, but in reality this – or something similar – has been underway for some time. I think that particularly one side has an interest in the fact that the outside world is to get this perception (of repression): the Catalan secessionists. They have systematically refused to adopt the decisions taken by the Constitutional court with regards to the celebration of the illegal referendum. So they obviously want the Spanish state to act in way to give the impression of repression. But they are the ones not respecting the rule of law and the Spanish Constitution. They already act as if they were living in a separate country, and thus call the Constitutional Court rulings and all their consequences for ‘repression’. But remember they are the only ones who might have an interest in furthering this impression.

Now will the situation escalate? It takes a lot of moderation on the part of the police forces and government officials to refrain from escalating the situation. The secessionists will do all they can to provoke reactions from the ‘state apparatus’ that look like repression. But they are the only ones who have an interest in this situation.

It is very serious and something similar has never happened before, but lets hope that we can avoid a more serious escalation.

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