The situation in Catalonia has escalated to a boiling point. After the October 14 trial of nine separatist leaders, including the former vice president of Catalonia, Oriol Junqueras, who illegally organized a referendum on the independence of Catalonia two years ago, mass protests began in Barcelona. This Saturday at least 350,000 Catalans took to the streets of the city. They demand that the government in Madrid grant them the right to self-determination. They were supported by the mayors of 814 of 947 settlements in Catalonia. Quim Torra, President of Catalonia, called on the demonstrators to unite against the “repressive” policies and force the Spanish authorities to start negotiations.
Peaceful protests escalated into violent clashes with the police. Over 200 people were arrested. About 600 people, including a couple of hundred law enforcement officers, were injured. The Catalan separatists draw on the experience of supporters of the "Russian world" who staged similar provocations in the cities of southeastern Ukraine in 2014. The new wave of Catalan separatism is a test for the Spanish authorities, and not only the preservation of the territorial integrity of Spain will depend on their actions and determination and political stability in other European countries.
Watching the unrest in the Spanish autonomous region of Catalonia, we unwittingly carry out associations with events in the south-east of Ukraine after the Euromaidan. As in the case of Catalonia, pro-Russian separatists were supported by representatives of local authorities. In February 2014, a congress of deputies of the southeast and Crimea was held in Kharkiv, which questioned the power of the transitional government of Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Oleksandr Turchynov, and announced that they would take over the constitutional order in Ukraine. The Kharkiv congress became the starting point for the activation of centrifugal moods in the south-east of Ukraine. One of the leaders of Donbas separatists, Pavel Gubarev, referred to the decisions of the congress, who, with foam at his mouth, proved the illegitimacy of the Ukrainian authorities, defended the idea of creating the Novorossiya (New Russia) confederation and its secession from Ukraine.
Local authorities did not prevent Russia from annexing Crimea in March 2014, they turned a blind eye to demonstrations by pro-Russian separatists and Kremlin agents in cities in southeastern Ukraine calling on Russian President Vladimir Putin to send his troops. Before the start of the Anti-Terrorist Operation in Donbas, Yatsenyuk and Turchynov acted indecisively and did not stop attempts to violate the territorial integrity of Ukraine at the very beginning, when there were no Russian military and mercenaries in the Donbas and Crimea was still in the jurisdiction of Kyiv.
The mayors of Catalan cities and protesters who demand Madrid give the green light to a referendum on the self-determination of their region are counting on Sanchez to give slack. Historically, the Spanish centrists and leftists have been more compliant with regional separatists than right-wing parties. The government of the centrist Adolfo Suarez and the socialist Felipe González contributed to the development of the autonomy of Catalonia. Under the premiere of the Socialist Jose Zapatero, the Spanish parliament approved the new autonomy charter of Catalonia in 2006, which spells out the right of the Catalans to determine their political future.
Catalan separatists hold their protests against the backdrop of political uncertainty in Spain, following the example of like-minded people from Donbas. In November, the second parliamentary elections this year will be held. Following the April parliamentary elections, Prime Minister and leader of the victorious Socialist Party, Pedro Sanchez, could not agree to form a coalition with the left-wing populist movement Podemos, the center-right People’s Party, and the center-based Citizens political force. Incidentally, the separatist rallies in Ukraine in the spring of 2014 were also held under inter-power conditions, before the early presidential and parliamentary elections were held. According to polls, the socialists can win again, gain about 120 seats in parliament and the right to be the first to start coalition negotiations.
The Catalan separatists are not good for the right-wing parties to come to power in Spain since they adhere to a firm position on the issue of maintaining the territorial integrity of Spain. The regimes of Primo de Rivera, Francisco Franco kept the separatists in the sandbox gloves, pursued their leaders. Former Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy from the People’s Party did not make concessions to the Catalan separatists during similar protests in 2017. He purged the local authorities of Catalonia, arrested the organizers of an unauthorized referendum on the independence of the region. In response to the separatists ’speeches, the People’s Party is preparing rallies in support of Spain’s territorial integrity. Santiago Abascal, the leader of the opposite extreme right-wing party Vox, calls on the government to take tougher steps to suppress Catalan separatism, criticizes the Socialist Party.
Excellence of Madrid
There is nothing stopping the Spanish authorities from purging the reactionaries of local authorities in Catalonia and initiating criminal proceedings against the most active participants in the separatist marches. Quim Torra, President of Catalonia, and the mayor-separatists have no constitutional right to claim the right to self-determination of Catalonia. The basic law of Spain does not contain provisions on the right of individual regions to secede from the kingdom. Spain is a unitary state, not a federation. Current events violate the constitutional order of the Spanish monarchy.
In the current context, the independence of Catalonia is legally impossible. For this, it is necessary to carry out constitutional reform in Spain and consolidate the right of the region to self-determination in the Basic Law. Neither conservatives, nor socialists, nor centrists are ready to take such a step. There is no reason for the socialists to take such a risk, because the People’s Party and the Citizens party, who don’t even want to talk to Sanchez about the coalition, will not understand the concessions to the separatists. The Catalan parties “Together for Catalonia” and the “Left Republicans of Catalonia” represented in the Spanish parliament together occupy only 17 seats in the Senate and 22 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. To carry out constitutional reform, approval is required from two-thirds of the deputies of both houses of parliament (616 seats).
Then the parliament dissolves, and following the results of the early parliamentary elections, two-thirds of the MPs must again vote for the reform project, and the majority of citizens must approve this decision at a national referendum. Catalans make up 16% of the population of 46 millionth Spain. There is no consensus among them about the independence of their region. According to a study by the Center for Public Opinion Research, only a third of Catalans want independence, while about 60% of the inhabitants somehow see the future of Catalonia as part of Spain. Most Catalans unanimously support the expansion of the autonomy of Catalonia. A quarter of the region’s population supports the idea of federalizing Spain.
The split of Spain is supported by an active minority, including some officials who, in the conditions of the independence of Catalonia, want to secure all the financial flows. The share of Catalonia in the GDP of Spain is 19%. Catalonia is one of the most developed regions of Spain with a high standard of living. However, today Catalonia already has financial autonomy within Spain, the local authorities independently pursue an investment policy, collect taxes from the population to replenish the region’s budget.
Unlike Donbas separatists, controlled and sponsored by Russia, the supporters of the independence of Catalonia do not have strong external support. Russia sympathizes with the Catalan separatists, but this is limited only to the coverage of the events in Catalonia by the Russian media in a perspective favorable to the separatists.
The independence of Catalonia is disadvantageous for the European Union, as this will set a precedent for disintegration processes in member countries. If Madrid gives Barcelona the right to self-determination, separatists of the Faroe Islands and Greenland from the Danish government will start demanding referenda on independence or expanding autonomy; independence of regions where Dutch is used. Demands for a referendum on independence are on the agenda for the separatists of Northern Ireland and Scotland in connection with the British exit from the EU.
It is not surprising why the EU does not support the Catalan separatists. Brussels considers the current riots in Catalonia an internal matter of Spain. Catalan separatists expect to maintain EU membership after leaving Spain, as the region’s economy is tailored to the European market. However, in the event of withdrawal from Spain, the region will automatically be outside the EU. Given the current mood in France, returning to the EU will not be easy. French President Emmanuel Macron opposed the EU enlargement policy, believes that it needs to be reformed, made more streamlined.