What's Happening in Catalonia?

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Spain has been in the news for quite a while now due to a crisis in the Catalonia region. Low-lying tensions are nothing new, but how have things escalated to the point where European arrest warrants are being issued for cabinet ministers?

Let’s talk about Catalonia.

We’re hardly the first ones to do so of course; there’s been plenty of talk about it over the past few weeks/months, just like there was plenty of talk about Scotland in 2014, or any other time when any part of any western country decides it’d rather be independent.

That being said, Scotland never declared Unilateral Independence, or had direct rule imposed upon it, or had anyone calling for the First Minister to be jailed etc. You get the point; an awful lot has happened, so it’s worth looking both at the most recent developments and how we got here.

On Sunday October 29, a pro-unity rally took place in Barcelona, with Spanish Police claiming a minimum of 300,000 people in attendance; Spanish authorities claimed there were over a million. It was just the latest act in the ongoing saga which really took off on October 1.

On that day, the Catalan government held an independence referendum which, naturally, was not recognized by the Spanish government. Just under 2.3 million voted; over 90% voted yes. Shortly after, the Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont declared independence from Spain, only to immediately call a halt to the process pending talks with the Spanish government.

However, on October 27 the Catalan parliament-with pro-unity MP’s boycotting-voted for unilateral independence. Simultaneously, the Spanish Senate met to discuss Catalonia, and on the same day the Madrid government, led by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, used emergency powers to dissolve the Catalan parliament and call for local elections on December 21.

As a result, Catalonia is currently under direct rule from Madrid; the Deputy Prime Minister has taken charge of the region-with other functions of the Catalan parliament transferred to government departments-with Puigdemont and other Catalan ministers sacked in the process. Several Catalan cabinet ministers have been placed under arrest by Madrid, with Puigdemont leaving Catalonia for Belgium.

What the future holds for Catalonia is unclear. While the referendum proved there is support for independence amongst the Catalan public as well as the political class, that support is by no means universal. According to the Catalan government itself, only 43% of the population took part in the referendum, which was disrupted by clashes with police. In addition to the march on Sunday, the Spanish National Day on September 11 saw turnout of around a million, and the few opinion polls conducted pre-October produced mixed results.

While the situation is peaceful at the moment, this is a massive political crisis that will not go away quietly, and there is every chance that it will get worse before it gets better. 

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