Catalonia Blinks in Secession Staredown

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I imagine this reading will make a lot of readers unhappy, but the Catalonia’s secessionist leaders made clear they hold a weak set of cards in dealing with Mariano Rajoy’s government. The European Commission washed its hand of the matter, saying Catalonia and Spain needed to settle their hash on their own….within the constitutional framework that allows Catalonia no exit. The full text of its press release:

Under the Spanish Constitution, yesterday’s vote in Catalonia was not legal.

For the European Commission, as President Juncker has reiterated repeatedly, this is an internal matter for Spain that has to be dealt with in line with the constitutional order of Spain.

We also reiterate the legal position held by this Commission as well as by its predecessors. If a referendum were to be organised in line with the Spanish Constitution it would mean that the territory leaving would find itself outside of the European Union.

Beyond the purely legal aspects of this matter, the Commission believes that these are times for unity and stability, not divisiveness and fragmentation.

We call on all relevant players to now move very swiftly from confrontation to dialogue. Violence can never be an instrument in politics. We trust the leadership of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to manage this difficult process in full respect of the Spanish Constitution and of the fundamental rights of citizens enshrined therein.

Yet after having threatened to declare independence within 48 hours of a favorable referendum vote (and press reports indicated that the total number of voted lodged favoring departure was higher than the threshold Catalonian separatists had set), officials in Catalonia are now retreating from their threat of a speedy exodus. Instead they want to negotiate and have the EU moderate. But you can’t have talks unless the other side wants to talk too.

Even though Catalonia has called on the EU to mediate, there’s no reason for the EU to get involved, and more important, no reason for Rajoy to come to the negotiating table. Recall what it took for the Basques to get where they are now: years of violence. It also took years of violence by the IRA before both sides were willing to hammer out a deal. Even though the EU might tisk tisk about Rajoy sending in his storm troopers, it’s made clear it won’t pressure Rajoy to be more accommodating towards Catalonia.

The lack of an overlap in probable bargaining positions is another impediment to negotiations, even if Rajoy were less bloody-minded than he is. As reader Jesus pointed out yesterday:

Regarding negotiations in the (near?) future: I don’t see common ground. It is not about this or that politician being pig-headed. We are seeing in conflict two incompatible concepts of the polity: the Spanish side thinks of Spain as one, and the whole of Spain as the subject that makes collective decisions. On the Catalan side, Catalonia is the subject and it is entitled to making the decisions about its future. Spain has never accepted that Catalonia is entitled to that. I think that the events these days show that clearly. The apparent success story of devolution in Spain since the ‘78 Constitution was a big exercise of pretense: Madrid would pretend that it respected Catalonia’s identity, and the Catalans would pretend that the problems with the watered-down devolution that we got were sort of technical, that they would be solvable one by one, through negotiation and influence. To make a long story short, the ruling of the Constitutional Court in 2010 meant the end of the pretense. The reach of that ruling was more political than juridical. It meant that the game of increasing devolution step by step, through political negotiation was over. So we had to turn to something else, which is where we are: independence as the only option to avoid Madrid making decisions that we feel are ours to make.

Now, I think that the only possibility of fruitful negotiations for Catalonia to remain is Spain is the return of that pretense. But the return of the pretense is going to be a hard sell in Catalonia. Not least because the big beneficiary of that arrangement was Spain.

There is no trust on the Catalan side. Nothing short of real devolution would be accepted. Madrid is not going to let us decide. And on top of that, real devolution means also financial devolution, something similar to what the Basques have, and that would be a major restructuring of the State.

We’ve mentioned that Catalonia had a nuclear weapon, in terms of defaulting on its debt, which would take down the Spanish banking system. But as far as I can tell, Catalonia’s official had never even made a veiled threat along those lines. Moreover, as Rabid Gandhi indicates in comments, that weapon appears to have been largely disarmed.

Moreover, as this Twitter thread (hat tip Dean) points out, Rajoy’s thuggish response to the Catalonia independence threat has if anything strengthened his position. That means he has every reason to continue to take a hard line on Catalonia:

And the Rajoy government is not making nice noises. From the Financial Times:

As Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy met other party leaders on Monday, his government gave little sign it was open to talks as long as the separatist Catalan government pushes for full independence from Spain, in contravention of the law and the constitution…..

Rafael Catala, the justice minister, said the government would use all the tools at its disposal — including if necessary the suspension of Catalonia’s autonomy — to enforce the rule of law. “We have always said that we would use all the force of the law,” he said told Spanish television.

There were also hawkish calls by Albert Rivera, the head of the liberal Ciudadanos party which supports the PP government, to suspend Catalonia’s autonomy immediately. The government on Monday rejected taking these steps right away, although has left the option open for the future.

It is worth noting that the Spanish government could have wound up pretty much where it is now, from a substantive perspective if it had let the referendum go forward but stressed that it had no legal meaning and would be ignored by the Spanish government as extra-legal. Polls before the referendum shows that only 41% of Catalonians supported a referendum if the Spanish government opposed it.

Moreover, even though the Catalonia government has tried to declare its voting results as legitimate and binding, it’s hard to see that with the disorganized polling that resulted from the crackdown on the election. Allowing voters to go to any polling station means no one can have confidence in the results.

Moreover, Catalonia’s negotiating stance is tantamount to, “We really didn’t mean it. Give us enough concessions and we’ll declare victory and go home.”

Now if Catalonia had started with a clear set of devolution demands, say that they wanted the same terms as other regions with better deals, most important, control over their own tax collection, the latest gambit would look like Catalonia was being consistent: “We want more devolved powers but will leave Spain and the EU if you don’t make concessions, which will hurt both of us a lot.” Instead, the sudden retreat looks like unseriousness, as if the referendum was a mere stunt.

In addition, outsiders might assume that because Rajoy is a hard core neoliberal, the separatists must be left-wingers. Not so. They are neoliberals too:

Catalonia held what was originally billed as a general strike, but English language reports are characterizing it as a protest over the violence by the Guarda Cadilla, as opposed to pro-separatist per se (although the two issues are linked). From the Guardian:

Large numbers of Catalans have observed a general strike to condemn police violence at a banned weekend referendum on independence, as Madrid comes under growing international pressure to resolve its worst political crisis in decades.

Schools and universities were shut on Tuesday and unions reported that most small businesses were closed after unions called for the stoppage to “vigorously condemn” the police response to the poll, in which Catalonia’s leader said 90% of voters had backed independence from Spain.

And the action today has been framed so as not to be a general strike:

The action has officially been called a general stoppage, as opposed to a strike, in order to maximise the participation of the 200,000 public sector workers who, thanks to this semantic twist, will not lose a day’s pay.

“It’s not a general strike, it’s a political stoppage,” said Camil Ros, secretary general of the UGT union in Catalonia. The unions have asked private enterprises to negotiate with their employees so they can join the stoppage without being penalised financially.

However, the underlying issue is that Catalonia may not be sufficiently united on the idea of secession for the government to proceed with confidence. Again from the Guardian:

But any attempt to unilaterally declare independence is likely to be opposed not just by Madrid but also a large section of the Catalan population, a region of 7.5 million people that is deeply split on the issue.

And as reader St Jacques pointed out:

It is clear that the economic crisis is behind the surge in support for independence since then, but they are still in the minority. In 2014, when the economic situation was far worse, they held a referendum which polled 81 per cent in favour but they were only able to get 42 per cent of eligible voters to participate. Since then, all polls have shown that support for independence has been weakening slowly.

Continued over-the-top use of force could move public sentiment the other way in Catalonia. But the unyielding position of the central government means that Catalonia would need to engage in a sustained campaign, meaning over a period of years, to make it painful enough to Madrid to force it to relent. I’d rather be proven wrong, since Rajoy represents a particularly ugly face of neoliberalism, but the rapid backpedaling by the separatists says they know they don’t have enough support among the public to go toe to toe with Madrid.

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  1. RabidGandhi

    We’ve repeatedly mentioned that Catalonia has a nuclear weapon, in terms of defaulting on its debt, which would take down the Spanish banking system.

    Am I missing something on this bond default ‘nuclear option’? Madrid already intervened in Catalunia’s accounts, and according to Bloomberg the Rajoy Administration has guaranteed that Spain will pay holders of Catalunia’s bonds.

    To me it sounds like Puidgemont is not mentioning this threat because the option has already been neutralised.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I will amend the pot and thanks for the catch. This is one of the dangers of writing on a topic where you can’t read the native language. press. Greece in 2015 was followed so intensively that that was possible, but I stayed out of covering the earlier bailout negotiations for precisely that reason.

      However, I think the implications may be different than you suggest. Catalonia can still default on its own bonds. Spain would then have to pay. Spain is basically taking the immediate PR/market rattling impact out of a default. It has gamed it out that it would have to step in and pay to avert a crisis, and it might as well announce that in advance.

      I can’t readily find information on Spain’s budget, how large its primary surplus is, and what its debt payment schedule is. One would need to look at the magnitude of the Catalonian debt that Spain would effectively be moving from the budget and tax collection apparatus of Catalonia to Spain to see what the fiscal impact would be. In other words, Catalonia can still default but the damage to Madrid would take longer to play out.

      And Catalonia would presumably be locked out of new bond issuance, so it would have to live off its own revenue collection. But if Madrid is eating Catalonia’s debt payments, that might not be so unworkable.

      I am not sure how to interpret the intervention in the accounts. The memo to the banks appeared to be to bar referendum related spending….which still appears to have occurred, although it may be that printers who ran off additional ballots will be stiffed.

      The basis for the intervention was a violation of the Spanish constitution. I don’t know the judicial system well enough to know how far it might go in ordering other types of intervention.

      The Catalonia tax collectors could refuse to collect taxes. Local tax authorities not collecting tax is a local issue. But that would lead to lots of service cuts. You’d need to have solid support to push things that far.

      1. Don Quijones


        It was not a government source who discussed the possibility of Catalonia defaulting on its debt, but rather the widely renowned Columbia University Professor of Economics, Chief Advisor to the World Economic Forum and fervent Catalan separatist Sala i Marti. During an interview on Catalan television Xavier Sala i Marti emphasised that all of the public debt, including the debt owed by the Catalan regional government, is in the name of the King of Spain:

        “It’s (Spain’s) debt. They already have a debt load of 100% of GDP. If Catalonia declared independence tomorrow, and Spain were to say “you’re going to be kicked out of the EU for three generations” and everything else they threaten us with, we’d just say to them, “well, these little papers of debt (bonds), you can have them for the next three generations.” All of a sudden, they’d have a much smaller GDP and a much larger debt overhang (around 125%)… A debt-to-GDP ratio of 125% would not be feasible. Spain would not be able to pay the debt they owe the Spanish banks, the biggest holders of Spanish bonds. And that would ruin them, triggering a financial bloodbath.”

        Sala i Marti may not be in local politics but he’s a highly connected figure in separatist circles. He’s also the co-author of the WEF’s Global Competitiveness Report.

        While the Catalan government is very unlikely to take such a drastic step, if the Rajoy government pushed hard enough, say, by sending in more police reinforcements from disparate parts of Spain (already on the table), by jailing elected representatives including Puigdemont or by revoking Catalonia’s autonomy (Madrid’s nuclear option), anything is possible.

        Here’s a link to the video (in Catalan and Spanish)

      2. RabidGandhi

        As I understand it, if secession moves forward the devil will be in the details of how Catalunian taxes are collected. This latest chapter of the row began when the previous President of the Generalitat, Artur Mas, pushed for Catalunia to have the same tax collection autonomy that the Basques have. The Basques collect all taxes accrued in their territory, while Catalunia basically only collects Estate Tax, Inheritance Tax, and some other smaller concepts (accounting for about 250m€/month), leaving major revenues such as VAT, corporate tax and income tax to Madrid. The Rajoy government repulsed Mas’ efforts for greater tax autonomy, and that’s how we got where we are. So if push comes to shove, taxes will be the defining issue, and here it should be borne in mind that the more Rajoy’s belligerence radicalises the Catalan centre, the easier it will be for the Separatists to make organise obstruction of Madrid’s tax levying authority.

        Secondly with regard to the financial intervention, Fin. Min. Cristóbal Montoro said that Madrid would ensure payments of Catalunia’s obligations (a word in Spanish that can mean both debts and bonds) so that there would be no default, but in its statements the Secretariat primarily referred to civil servant salaries. This was in an attempt to avoid creating even more grievances (although Rajoy has certainly not refrained from throwing jet fuel on the fire in every other way conceivable). Either way, the intervention means that Madrid covers all ordinary expenses, and any extraordinary expenses must be sent to the General Administration for approval. Furthermore it also means that Barcelona cannot issue new debt.

        Lastly, it should be noted that Madrid has its eyes on a milestone date: 20 October, when S&P will update its rating of Spanish bonds. This has two effects of course: first it forces Madrid to put the best possible spin on the solidity of its bond payments, and secondly it should push the administration to want to get a deal done before that date.

      3. Oregoncharles

        ” But if Madrid is eating Catalonia’s debt payments, that might not be so unworkable.”
        Actually, that sounds like a bargain, at least without knowing what other repercussions there are.

        An actual secession is going to be messy, regardless of the particulars. We have to assume the secessionists know that and have already written it off.

        As a wise and informed person said, “Sovereignty is worth something.” It’s worth quite a lot – lives, in many cases. The real problem for Catalonia is that they’re divided. Rajoy just helped them out on that.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          The wee problem, which I did not mention, is that Spain would tell banks to cut of the Catalonia government from the payment system. It could force compliance by threatening to revoke bank licenses (not that any bank would be unlikely to comply). No access to banks, no way to collect taxes or pay people.

          1. Sue

            You are 100% right. What you accurately bring up is what the Spanish Government partially already does. Banks cannot issue payments to Catalan public servants and Catalan institutions which depend on the Catalan Government, “Generalitat”, without previous paperwork submission and rubber stamp approval from the Spanish State bureaucracy. This has caused some anger among some Catalan public sector enterprises and contractors doing work for them when quick timely payments are of the essence. Nevertheless, right now public servants and organizations directly or indirectly linked to the Generalitat are being paid because Catalonia as of today is not a State and,( although micromanaged and surveilled and controlled by “Spain’s Ministry of Plenty”), payments reach their destination. What will happen once and if Catalonia declares independence?. I have heard and read some alternative solutions for the Catalans to this conundrum, which we could debate about at another time. Yves, thanks for all the articles on the matter and your handling of it given its controversy and complexity.

    2. Sue

      RabidGandhi, very true. As you said Spanish Government intervened Catalunya’s accounts, so it is nonsense to talk about Catalunya causing Spain to struggle to avoid a default on its public debt payments as they become due. Let me add that, as the Catalan Government stated before Oct 1, the Spanish Central Government has de facto already partially applied Art 155, CE (Section 155 of Spanish Constitution), breaking the laws they seem to be so fond of by not seeking the required congressional approval. Make not mistake, (and given that the EU, when it is forced to choose, always has gone and will go for status quo over democracy and civil and human rights & therefore will allow it), the Spanish Central Government won’t hesitate to execute a full takeover of the Catalan Government using all the brute force necessary to that end.
      On a different note, Dolors Bassa from the Catalan Department of Labor has giving us the numbers on today’s Catalan strike: near 100% of retailers did strike today, 75% to 90% of agents in the public sector. Dolors Bassa confirmed corporations in heavy industry and other large corps, which by their nature of their productive activity needed more than one day in advance to embrace for a traditional strike, just let employees to take time to protest. Once more according to Dolors Bassa, electricity consumption has been down 11% in Catalunya today. Incredible large marches all over Catalunya.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        There were also large scale protests over labor law “reforms” in France last summer. Didn’t matter. The law was passed.

        See my comment above. Spain can bring Catalonia to its knees by telling banks to stop handling transactions for the government. If there were a declaration of independence, it could tell banks to stop stocking ATMs and cut off access to payment systems. It might not be able to do it surgically enough (as in can it cut off payments from only the Catalonia EPOS machines of say, Sofitel?) but it could cut off any merchant who operated only in Catalonia.

        Now Catalans could go across the border and get money out of ATMs, but major tourism center and cash based economy with not much cash do not go together.

        Clive I am sure could give a more refined view of how Spain could give Catalonia a partial version of the Greece bank holiday treatment.

  2. ambrit

    When I saw that picture of Franco astride a horse in the masthead of El Pais linked to last week, I knew, and said, that things were going to be worse than anticipated. Unless running photos of the deceased dictator on the front page of a section of the newspaper is common practice, I take it to be a not so subtle message.

    1. Sue

      Also, heed to this: I am receiving hundreds of accounts vía WhatsApp communications and telephonic conversations from marchers in Catalunya. Classic and subtle tactics from a repressive State handbook are being used. Guardia Civil and National Police undercover embedded inside the peaceful marchers attempting to capture images of the slightest violence by the protesters , and according to about 55 eye witnesses, inciting such violence to occur in a few instances. It is not a secret, and it has been factually reported by TV3 (Catalan Public TV) , some National Police officers display badges whose identification numbers are not legible. Spanish Central Government is very eager to break the very real narrative based on the opposition “State-repression-violence/people’s-peaceful-protests” in order to legitimate the indiscriminate use of the State monopoly over violence and take said violence to the high degree of their liking

  3. Darn

    Minor point re the IRA analogy, it depends what you mean by the sides. The UK govt was talking to the IRA a little in the 70s, and then especially after the Brighton bomb. Unionist-nationalist power-sharing within NI with a cross-border dimension was UK policy from 1973 and nationalists and some unionists supported it but it failed to attract either the IRA or the unionist electorate; the Good Friday Agreement was the successful attempt, “Sunningdale for slow learners”. But republicans ultimately still believe they can break the UK and Republic’s law to pursue their aims if it helps, Gerry Adams has said so. This is like Jesus’s incompatible concepts.

    My uneducated guess re Catalonia is Catalans, despite or because of seeing rubber bullets fired, wouldn’t desire ETA-style violence to achieve further devolution — which seems about as much as it could achieve, because the Basque Country is not independent after all. It could also play into Rajoy’s hands: I refuse to negotiate until violence stops! Despite your argument about the Catalan govt’s weak hand (over the referendum result), I don’t think it holds true for the future of autonomy. Since the Spanish state could hope to smother independence with further autonomy, maybe “fundamental” but less so than independence would be, and the Basque Country is a precedent anyway.

  4. Eustache De Saint Pierre

    A lot of bruises for not much return, but a glimpse perhaps of the dark forces that could be unleashed, as in that much overused & therefore cheapened word Fascism. I do feel some sympathy for the EU who it seems to me are stuck between a rock & a hard place in which it’s citizens are I think destined to get the sharp end of the stick, due to TINA Neoliberalism, trade imbalances etc, & I wonder whether they knew what they were getting into, when they decided to pull out all the stops to save the banks – after all the devil does not usually explain the fine print & it does appear that many politicians are illiterate when it comes to how these things really work.

    Thank you for the as usual excellent coverage & commentary especially from those on the front line – hopefully & somehow a way will be eventually found to improve things for the majority without the shedding of much blood – we shall see.

  5. Jesus Martinez

    Here we go again before bedtime.
    Regarding the EU position, I wrote the some points in the previous article that I think are still a valid reflection:

    1- Even if we wanted to leave the EU, they wouldn’t let us. That fantasy in Spain that an independent Catalonia would be expelled from all civilized institutions and some of the uncivilized ones is just for internal consumption.
    2- For the EU, Catalan independence is an internal rearrangement. It may be a problem, but it is not the net loss that it would be for Spain.
    3- One of the main concerns of the EU with Catalan independence may be that it would set a precedent, and then other regions in Spain and northern Italy might follow. And perhaps, and this is only a guess, the EU is thinking: we can deal with the new States, but the problem is: what do we do with what remains of Spain? What do we do with Southern Italy?
    4- Support for EU membership is strong now, but a serious crackdown (the tanks, basically) with EU silence validating it could mean that in 4-5 years’ time Catalans could vote for independence even if that means leaving the EU. Or we could vote for independence because that would mean leaving the EU. My friend from Puigcerdà spontaneously reported that the lack of reaction from the EU had many people extremely disappointed.
    5- In 1986 the (sort of) Socialist government held a referendum re. NATO membership. Spain had joined it through the back door in 1981 or 82, and there was a vote on it in 86. Remain won in Spain, but Catalonia voted to leave. I think that some of the reactions recently in Washington (the WH Spokeswoman, Heather Something, used (I think twice) the expression “government or entity that comes out of this vote”) have a lot to do with it. They can accommodate change, but they don’t want disruption. It seems that there is one person in the Barcelona consulate (this is something that I heard of only once, so it may be not all accurate, but it sounded genuine to me at the time), in the Barcelona American consulate there is one person who is in charge of following events in Catalonia and he knows everything about it. Everything means: absolutely everything. And I suppose that that person does not keep all that information to himself.
    6- Manual of societal control for governments. Rule number 1: never mix a nationalist movement with a social issue. Rule number 2: never mix a nationalist movement with basic democratic rights. Rule number 3: never mix a nationalist movement with anything else. It is explosive. No change means a lot of mixing in the years to come.
    7- I was surprised a couple of days ago how this issue triggered a lot of comments about secession of American states. A dynamic of repression and resistance is probably not the best example for the masses of the world, and this conflict is not just going to go away.
    8- EU: “Mr Erdogan, you should treat your Kurds better”. MR ERDOGAN: Eeeeeer…

    There is a long history in diplomacy of denying everything until it happens. There is a famous call by Jacques Delors to (I think) the Lithuanian President denying any intention to recognise them as a State 48 hours before Germany and France did exactly that. It was established only recently that Finland was supporting and financing the Estonian nationalists as it was declaring publicly that they would never support an Estonian independent State. I am not saying that that is what is going on. I am saying that Junker’s words have to be read in a context.

    St Jacques posted in the previous article: I think that his post is irrelevant to what we are discussing. Racism: not an issue. Comparison with a hypothetical secession of Ile-de-France: this conflict is about greedy Catalans who bla bla – wrong approach. Economic utopia: Catalans as fools dominated by a corrupt scheming elite – buf! And finally, the ordinary people caught in the crossfire bla bla: well… bla bla. They are all pet themes of the Spanish press. Honestly, and I apologise if I sound harsh here, he sounds like a bunch of stereotypes to me. We have had conversations with people arguing along those lines for years, and one of the great things about independence is that we will be able to just stop having them.

    That said, the Le Monde link that he included in that post is interesting: it conveys an impression of Le Monde as playing the role of the mouthpiece of the French government or at least part of the French establishment. And that is important. France is the key player here. Geography rules.

    In spite of the lukewarm reaction abroad, and the apparent weakness of the Catalan position, I still think that the key is the limit that Spanish repression can reach. The police is not going to be enough. If the EU has set an unspoken line and Spain can’t send in the tanks, I think that we’ll be independent soon. It is control of the territory that matters. If we kick out the Spanish police, take over control of infrastructures and borders, and get financial institutions to pay their taxes to the Catalan government, then we’ll be effectively independent and foreign recognition will come. If the military option is on the table, we are going to see in the best of cases a period of repression, possibly the prohibition of pro-independence parties (for all the doubts that I have about the legal consistency of the Spanish government actions the last two weeks, I don’t have any about this one: it has already happened with the pro-ETA Bildu party, and applying it here wouldn’t be a surprise).

    Regarding insufficient support: opinion polls are opinion polls, and they can be framed in many ways. In the last election to the Catalan parliament the pro-independence parties combined got (if I remember well) 47.8% of the vote, which thanks to the electoral law became a parliamentary majority. And the vote last Sunday is clear even taking into account the official turnout. For the NO to win a normal vote pretty much everyone else would have to vote NO. Consider that the highest turnout ever in Spain has been 81-82%. And many YES votes were not cast on Sunday because of police and digital disruption. From what I read, I don’t think that the Catalan government feels that it doesn’t have the support of the majority of the population. And I think that they are right to think so. What will happen if the tanks come rolling in is a different matter.

    As for the default option: I think that Don Quijones’ comment clarifies the debate. And that means that the default option is only a possibility after independence. In fact, there is no need of a default: Spanish government debt is… well, Spanish. For Catalonia to pay its share (whatever percentage that is) an agreement is necessary. No agreement, and that debt is only Spanish. The debt that the Catalan government has with the Spanish government is a different thing: that could be a default (for instance, in the absence of an agreement), but then that would be Catalonia’s default and not Spain’s. It does not seem to me like a nuclear option for the Catalan government. It would be, though, the main bargaining chip in the case of post-independence negotiations. And a big reason for the EU to back an agreement. But again, first we have to establish facts on the ground.

    Good night, folks.

  6. Mattski

    Good analysis. I especially appreciate Jesus’s clear-headed analysis. But there is always a temptation to view whatever is in front of our faces as somehow final, and this analysis, here and there, errs in that direction. On the monetary/debt front Catalunya’s situation was always going to look parlous–it’s a global system, designed to extract at risk of severe penalty from the weak, the citizenry, smaller states and all but a very few. As Sue notes above–rules, and laws are for suckers; when the rules become inconvenient, the rulers break them at will.

    The ace in the hole Catalunya has it that it is indeed a different culture and that while impatient it can play the long game. I don’t think the Catalan government, is, can, or should give up on the default threat; it must preserve all of the maneuverability it can vis a vis that debt. (It is possible to argue, for example, that the debt was amassed under duress, dictatorship conditions, etc., to take it apart and further discredit it.) In fact, in the end it may be what’s necessary. It’s hard to see independence without a rupture; that is what separation is. Rehearsing this to themselves, getting a grip on the practicalities, this–in my understanding–is that Catalunya is doing now. This is the elaboration of the alternative to global capitalism. We should all be looking on with great interest, and learning.

    Side note: your readership tends to include many people from the financial world; they see these issues from such a POV. I learn from them, but grow weary at times of their lack of imagination. I’m a new/old school ecological Marxist, and see only limited value–insights long held by the left about debt–in MMT. But if nothing else perhaps it affords a way to start dreaming again. Other worlds are indeed possible and many in Catalunya have the idea they should create one.

    1. Mattski

      Just want to add that what I know of the situation comes from living with Catalan and other schoolteachers in Barcelona in the 80s, most of whom were lefties, some studious Marxists, and talking to lefties in the Gracia neighborhood in the summer of 84. Many of them were for independence then, and I have stayed in touch with several of them, indeed they are among my most beloved friends. Some were from the countryside where–in places around LLeida the movement and culture are very strong. None of them lack sympathy for Barcelona’s huge immigrant community, nor were they antagonistic toward Andalucian culture (etc.) They continue to describe the project in terms of elaborating a new progressive state, as I suggest above. (I have been back for as long as three months off and on since.) The practicalities are indeed how you get there, though often highly ephemeral; but it is perhaps for the above reasons that the insistence on them by some here sometimes strike me as implicitly reactionary, in the truest sense of that term.

      1. Dan

        One of the serious weaknesses of the Catalan independence movement is that it unites essentially opposed political elements, namely the leftist progressive forces that used to be centered on groups like ERC (e.g. Junqueras), and the extreme right wing conservative forces that used be centered on groups like CIU (Pujol, Mas, Puigdemont). Their basic modes of thought are very different, and this makes coordination difficult.

        Nationalism is inherently reactionary and xenophobic, and support for independence is generally not strong among the many “immigrants” from southern Spain and the many immigrants from foreign countries (many now nationalized citizens) who live in Catalunya (these two groups make up maybe a third of population of Catalunya – and you won’t see many of them in the protests or voting).

        What has united the independence movement is the linguistic aspect, in particular education in Catalan. Irrespective of cultural/political background, anyone educated in Catalunya in recent decades has learned to speak Catalan, most as a first language. It’s also this issue that has most generated resentment of the central government in Catalunya.

    2. Lupita

      If indeed Catalans seek an alternative to global capitalism, they could start addressing their arms deals, particularly with Persian Gulf countries, but also with their main client, the US.

      I really don’t think an anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist alternative will come out of a separatist movement in a rich Western country. I would look elsewhere for inspiration. As we all know, the Western left is actually right-wing.

  7. diptherio

    You know all the “consent of the governed” and “democracy” talk are a bunch of hooey when the one thing you are under no circumstances allowed to do is leave. If you don’t have the freedom to not participate, to not submit yourself to the governance of others, you in fact have no freedom at all.

    1. Basil Pesto

      unilateral secession isn’t particularly democratic. As far I can tell, there are very few if any democracies that allow it, or ever have. Maybe you think not being allowed to unilaterally secede is wrong (I don’t – the planet would just be comprised of about a million crackpot micronations) but it’s not correct to say or imply that it’s somehow un- or anti-democratic, or hypocritical for advocates of democracy to be against it.

      While doing some self-fact checking for this post I came across some materials. This is a fascinating look at the topic:

      This is a very reasonable essay on the question of unilateral secession wrt recent events:

  8. Basil Pesto

    For anyone who wants to take a deeper dive into the Spanish Constitution/Constitutional Law, and its history, I might recommend this:

    I haven’t read it, but I used the volume for the Russian Federation’s constitution when I studied the Russian legal system (in fact, our teacher wrote the book!) It was good and the series itself is pretty highly regarded. They also have really fantastic covers. Looking at the contents, it looks at a lot of the constitutional issues that have been discussed here in the last few weeks. I also noticed, in the book preview on Bezos-mart, this passage:

    “It is interesting to note, incidentally, that the term ‘liberal’ as a political word was first coined in Spain in 1810-1812 and began to circulate in Europe in the 1820s to refer to the Spanish rebels of the time.”

    You learn something new every day!

    (Out of curiosity, I looked up the book’s author. He teaches constitutional law in Barcelona. I wanted to see if he had anything to say about recent developments. He doesn’t as far as I can see, but he co-authored this piece in March. It’s in Spanish but I ran it through the translator machine and it’s broadly critical of the regional juridical (or legislative?) processes that were being undertaken and which seem to have led to this moment.)

  9. Jesus Martinez

    Hi Yves
    I think that I just posted something. Did it go through or should I re-send it?

    1. Oregoncharles

      Do you mean “Hi
      Here we go again before bedtime.
      Regarding the EU position, I wrote the some points in the previous article that I think are still a valid reflection:…”?

      If so, it’s posted.

  10. Ned

    Catalonia knows how much they pay in taxes relative to the poor ration of return in services from Madrid.

    Can’t Catalonia withhold tax payments to Madrid and instead divert them to paying in-state pensions, fund services and pay off legitimate state debt–while shafting the vultures?

    In such a large demographic area, couldn’t an alternate local currency, “The Cat”, work in parallel with the Euro?

    1. Sue

      Two of the main powers which make a State a State: monopoly over violence/coercion and authority over taxation. The latter is so far secured by the Spanish State by the intervention of the Generalitat ( Catalan Government) accounts.

      1. Ned

        If the U.S. Army did to local American voters what the Guardia Civil and National Police did to Catalans, I’d be disgusted if they didn’t leave.

        1. todde

          Have you been to the Chicago jail?

          I have. There is an actual line on the floor, and when you come out of your cell. your toes are to be on that line.

          If not, you get your ass beat

      2. JTMcPhee

        Given the fractured nature of the US polity and political economy, beth, I would bet that if one were to ask the question honestly, in a large enough poll, one might get back the question from those polled, ” Ah, which state are you talking about, exactly?”

      3. Oregoncharles

        I would take the Northwest (“Ecotopia”) out of the Union in a heartbeat, if it didn’t mean civil war.

        I think the US is far too large to govern well, with, at this point, major internal culture conflicts.

        1. Oregoncharles

          And to really answer your question, if the south or Texas want to secede, I’ll gladly kiss them goodbye. (Some of my family live in Indiana, where I grew up, or I’d include it, too.)

          I think we’d be much better off as at least 5 countries, and so would the rest of the world.

      4. Anon

        Well, if it was a region say, CA-OR-WA (~16% of US pop.) and self-contained (plenty of food, hydro-solar power, water, and a gazillion tourists (free money)) then, Yes!

        I think it already has a book about it: Ecotopia.

    2. Dan

      It is not “Madrid” that does anything to Catalunya, rather it is the central Spanish government. This rhetoric of blaming “Madrid” is not constructive – it alienates everybody who lives in Madrid – who feel (correctly) unjustly attacked. Most of them have absolutely nothing to do with national policy vis-a-vis Catalunya and are more concerned with the proliferation of parking meters or absence of bike lanes in Madrid. (This despite the fact that many of them are rancid Spanish nationalists.)

      In the US income taxes are paid to the federal government that disburses them to the states as it sees appropriate. Some states receive proportionately more than is collected from their populations. This is as it should be. From each according to his means, to each according to his means. The situation is essentially the same in Spain, except that certain communities, Euskadi and Navarra, are subject to a different regimen than are the others wherein the taxes paid by residents of these communities are remitted directly to these communities (this oversimplifies a bit, but this is not the place for accounting details). Catalunya has long wanted a tax regimen comparable to that employed in Euskadi and Navarra. This is a complicated issue, but a typical leftist progressive attitude rejects such an arrangement out of hand – why should national interests subordinate other social interests? This argument is fundamentally right wing – it is the argument that the rich earned what they have and shouldn’t have to share it … The same logic says that if it contributes proportionally less than Barceloan, then Lleida shouldn’t get as much money as Barcelona …

      The claim that infrastructure spending in Catalunya is inferior to what it is in other regions of Spain is widely made in Catalunya, but not so clearly demonstrable. Sure, the city of Madrid has a much better public transport system than does Barcelona (it is better than what London has), and a nicer airport. But it’s port is not as nice. Compare something else, like public education or public health care and the situation is even less clear. Most of the best public Spanish universities are in Catalunya (Pompeu Fabra, UAB, UB, UPC) and they are better (at least according to most international rankings) than those in Madrid. This reflects the poor support of public education in Madrid. Something similar is true with regards to public health care. In Madrid there has been a wholesale attack on public infrastructure organized by the regional government. Even with respect to roads and trains the same is to some extent true – huge debt was assumed at both the city and regional level to pay for all this construction, including the compltely useless toll road to Barajas.

      Nearly every complaint that can be made about infrastructure spending in Catalunya is applicable in Spain generally. A combination of right wing governance and corrupt governance has degraded seriously all manner of infrastructure. If one never leaves Catalunya it can appear this is a special mistreatment, but really it is a common feature of the Spanish political/social environment (part of it also aggravated by EU pushed austerity policies). Many in the rest of Spain receive badly such complaints emanating from a region that generally speaking is better off economically than they are. It’s hard to sympathize with a rich guy who complains a lot.

      I personally have no problem with an independent Catalunya, but making Catalunya independent is not a trivial matter, and it does not involve Catalunya alone, in isolation. I don’t question the sentiments that lead people to want independence, even if I find some of the arguments they use to try to justify those sentiments to be lacking.

      The cowardice of the central government in recent years has been terrible. There is evident discontent in Catalunya, evidently widespread sentiment for independence, and this is something that requires proactive, constructive dialogue originating from the central government. Instead the central government has refused to admit there is a problem, refused to speak about the problem, refused to do anything, hiding itself in the same sort of legalistic arguments used by anti-immigration chauvinists (does it do anything about the social realities of millions crossing a border to insist that they all do so illegally?). The inevitable consequence of such lack of engagement was this weekend’s farce.

      Incompetence is a further factor in all this. The central government couldn’t even do a decent job of shutting down a vote it considered illegal. In fact millions of people voted, and the police looked undisciplined and poorly organized (in fairness, as they always do). The idea that if the vote is illegal the police should hit the voters with sticks is unfortunately typical in Spanish law – the user always bears the burden for the illegal acts of the provider – and it reveals just how poorly the PP understands what government accountable to the governed should be. Nothing in recent memory created so many independentists.

      1. Basil Pesto

        Good post, cheers

        One thing I’d point out – I understand why Madrilenos might feel they are being unjustly attacked, but in this case, the practice you point out – Madrid as shorthand for the central government – is quite common. In English anyway. It is used for example, with Washington, or Berlin – criticism of the actual people of the cities isn’t necessarily implied.

        The technical term is a metonym:

        I certainly hope the tensions of the last few days don’t unduly increase tension and hostility among the Spanish citizenry.

  11. Basil Pesto

    Meanwhile, news from the sociocultural sphere

    I bring up the football angle because I think I first learnt about the Catalan independence movement about 7 or 8 years ago from Sid Lowe’s excellent football journalism covering Spain in the Guardian, of all things (it helps as well that, iirc, he has a PhD in Spanish history). You can learn a surprising amount about the heterogeneity of European cultures from good football journalism!

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I’d second that, Sid Lowe’s football writing is a great introduction to Spain. I hadn’t realised up until a few months ago that Barcelona’s second club, Espanyol, is overtly royalist and anti-independence, which will certainly add more spice to the next derby (I suspect its a certainty that this will be played in an empty stadium).

      1. Basil Pesto

        Interesting! I just assumed that Espanyol would tend pro-independence too for some reason. Although I do note from the article that Espanyol are joining the ‘strike’ (not sure if this is technically the correct word) today. That pleases me.

        As a completely worthless aside, the one and only time I visited Barcelona I went for a walk around Montjuic, a large park. Some of the infrastructure from the 92 Olympics is in the area, including the Olympic Stadium which is where Espanyol were playing at the time (I think they’ve moved to a new stadium). There was no game on at the time and you could just walk inside and have a look. I was only there for maybe five days, but I really liked that city and it bothers me that I haven’t been back.

  12. PlutoniumKun

    I’ve hesitated to post on this topic as I don’t speak Spanish and my knowledge of Spanish/Catalan affairs is pretty basic. But I’ve been puzzling over how this could end up, and Yves has expressed very well I think the reasons why this will probably not end well for the Catalans.

    I was initially wondering why the Madrid government has been so overtly aggressive over the issue. Common sense would suggest that either a superficially conciliatory approach or just blithely ignoring the vote as illegal and irrelevant would be the most effective way. But I suspect that as the Catalans don’t get a lot of sympathy even from left wing Spanish, then this may well be a very populist move on his part. The impression I get is that many southern Spanish (in particular) find the Catalans pompous and self-righteous, so probably aren’t unhappy at seeing them get a bloody nose.

    I found the Catalan approach even more puzzling. Calling a referendum and insisting that it meant independence in 48 hours seemed to me like negotiating by pointing a gun at your own head and saying you’ll shoot if you don’t get your way. There is simply no way they would get any sympathy from other countries from this approach, and the potential for chaos would seem certain to scare many Catalans into backing down. It seems like a bluff that was just waiting to be called. Apart from anything else, it raised the prospect of non-catalonians (whether Spanish or other ethnic minorities) flooding out in fear of what might happen.

    So it seems to me that both sides have negotiated badly, but the Catalan authorities have done it worst. Which leads me to think that the main Catalan leaders actually never intended this, circumstances and short term political manoeuvring have led them into a dangerous position. I’m reminded a bit of the situation when Czechoslovakia broke up. A friend of mine who lived in Prague at the time was pretty sure the Slovaks never actually wanted independence, they were simply trying to get the government in Prague to agree to more devolution of power, but when the Czechs said ‘well, we don’t actually really like you’., then suddenly things spiralled out of control Fortunately, the circumstances worked out fairly well for both countries, as they joined the EU quickly and this provided a peaceful framework for democracy and development. But I don’t see such a happy outcome for the Catalans if there was a catastrophic and unplanned independence.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Too add to the points above about divisions within Catalonia. I’ve always had the impression that independence advocates in Catalonia have tended to be similar to Scotland – broadly centre-left, but thats based more on the people I know from Barcelona than anything else. So I was surprised to see that the centre-right has been so central to the events. It does seem similar to 1916-1922 in Ireland when the revolution was started by a mixture of nationalist romantics and a smaller part of the left wing, but when it looked like the majority supported it, a conservative right wing element essentially took over and made the running.

      I think the left wing in Europe has always had a strange relationship with nationalism. There is a strong strain of trade union related left radicalism which has always been very anti-nationalist, seeing it as contrary to raising the consciousness of the working class. And this has always run parallel to a left wing ideology which has been supportive of nationalist movements, seeing them as opportunities to create a new society. This is most obvious with the SNP in Scotland (who are really social democrats) and increasingly Sinn Fein in Ireland, although the latter have a more radical outlook. In the case of both the SNP and Sinn Fein, and so far as I know, the more left wing elements in Catalonia and the Basque Country, these movements have been overtly pro-EU, seeing it as an ‘umbrella’ to protect smaller countries and allowing a transition to independence (in addition to a way of giving assurance to their own minorities that their rights will be protected). In contrast, there have been in the larger countries (most obviously Britain and France), a protectionist anti-EU line of left wing thought, which tends in my experience to coincide with a less than sympathetic view of smaller nations advocating for independence). Corbyn and Melanchon would I think belong more or less in the latter camp.

      Its worth remembering that in the Spanish Civil War, the Republicans weren’t just left wing fighters. The Basques were mostly conservative catholics who made common cause against Madrid. So in Spain, as elsewhere, its not uncommon to see all sorts of odd bedfellows. I’ve no doubt the same process is happening in Catalonia now.

      1. Anonimo 2

        Just one correction: during the civil war Madrid was in the republican side. The fiefdom of the fascists was mainly Galicia, both Castillas, Navarra (carlists) and (zones of) Morocco.

    2. Terry Flynn

      As usual I hesitate to disagree with you given your always detailed analysis.

      My only point of dissension concerns how the outcomes you hypothesise might play out, not the processes and outcomes you predict per se.

      Thus I simply wonder if this kind of unrest might break the cognitive dissonance that exists in various southern Eurozone countries in that they “hate austerity but like the Euro”. Maybe if (even via violent dislocation) MMT type principles became “obvious” and Euro support fractured we might see some major changes in the EU…

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Thanks Terry,

        I’m not really sure it has many implications for the Euro. Despite everything, the Euro is very popular in nearly every smaller country in Europe. I think that, quite simply, people do not associate the Euro with austerity, people haven’t joined up the dots. Its easy to forget just how much a source of humiliation it was for many people, especially in Greece, Italy and Spain that their currencies were seen as ‘weak’ by northern Europeans. And this was combined with a general view (not unfounded) that their own authorities were incompetent at running their currencies. People genuinely liked – and like – having a strong currency in their pocket and quite overtly like the idea of the Germans running it rather than their own elites. To paraphrase the famous speech in Trainspotting, if you are going to be colonised by someone, at least let it be by people who aren’t wankers.

        And another related point – and something of a bugbear for me reading many comments here – is that people living in large countries forget that for smaller countries the EU is extremely popular not because people are blind to what is done in Brussels, but because they trust Brussels far more than their larger neighbour, whether that neighbour be Germany, France, the UK, or whatever. People who are opposed to the EU need to spell out exactly what their alternative is. A large country may see a future for themselves free of foreign entanglements and agreements, but that is not an option available to an Ireland, Greece, Latvia or Belgium.

        1. Terry Flynn

          Thank you – good counter-argument.

          I guess I’m somewhat guilty of “assuming everyone must see the obvious out of the frying pan into the fire” they’ve done by ejecting “local crooks” in favour of EU ones. But i do remember from a road trip from catalunya through to galicia seeing so many good roads with those giant billboards proclaiming “funded by EU grant number xxxxxx” so I guess I need to get my head into what they genuinely see rather than what I’d wish they saw.

          1. JTMcPhee

            In Chicago, when I was growing up and over the years, every project and bit of construction had “Mayor Richard J. Daley” written large all over the signage. Simple politics, of course, but if you wanted your snow plowed and garbage collected and access to city services, you knew to let the ward boss help you pull the “straight Dem Ticket lever” in the supposed sanctity of the voting booth, behind the curtain that closed around you when you lined up in front of the rows of little levers on the “machine” (as in “machine politics”). You knew, even though the whole system sucked up huge amounts of corruption and produced lots of covert and overt violence, you knew where the power lay and the benefits of “government” came from. And for those who mattered, who had power or preference due to their heritage, the “system” sort of worked.

        2. vlade

          As you say PK, for smaller nations EU is a shield and economic help. It doesn’t mean there isn’t corruption (there’s plenty of it) – but often that corruption takes away part of EU funds, which still means there’s more funds left for the country than there would be otherwise (if the corruption was sucking the country’s own funds).

          Moreover, few of the smaller countries (with the exception of Ireland I guess) have to deal with any significant migration due to the EU – at least until EU tried to allocate them some refugees Which often shows other problems with those countries. Most of the Visegrad countries are brutally xenophobic and racist, even if – probably actually because of – they rarely see anyone else. And when they do (like say the Vietnamese minority in CZ), they see them as so clearly “second class” that they don’t have a problem with them.

    3. Anonimo 2


      As a spaniard and catalan reader I can say that you are totally right in 2 things: first of all, the reaction of the government was rather lame and clumsy (apart from outright fascist). IF only they had allowed the referendum and ignored the results, the situation wouldn’t have down-spiraled. Turnout would have been much lower and that’s it. But, they decided to make matters worse and crack down on people, which only created “new separatists” and galvanized the movement.

      You do wonder why. Well, I am just guessing but the way I see it, here are the reasons: firstly, going after the catalans is highly lucrative in terms of votes in Spain (at least in half of it). Secondly, the media and the public have forgotten the hundreds of corruption cases that involve members of the popular party, and last but not least, nobody talks anymore about the austerity measures that are being implemented. It’s a win-win-win situation.

      Apart from that, keep in mind that Spain really never broke with it’s fascist past. The ones who are ruling nowadays are the heirs of Franco. They have “always” been in power, they do not have any democratic culture whatsoever and cannot stand by any means that anybody dares do dissent. They can’t help it, it’s their idiosyncrasy.

      You are also right when you say that catalans aren’t popular among leftists in Spain either. To cut a long story short PP = PSOE when it comes to catalonia (and everything else, TBH). Only Podemos (true left-wingers) and sometimes IU (communists) show some simpaty and tolerance for us.

      Hope that was useful to clarify some things which seem impossible to understand from civilized and literate countries

    4. vlade

      PK, you’re spot on in the Czechoslovakia comparison – independence was a lever by one party, who was trying to use to get the most out of the other side (Czechs) – but the then Czech PM outmaneuvred them to get what he wanted (to be a full PM, not just a state-PM) by “acceding” to their wishes.

      1. Irrational

        I was just musing to a colleague that we need an Irishman (m/f), a Czech or a Slovak to mediate in this.
        Also, completely agree with PK’s analysis of overplayed hands on both sides. Now how to climb down?

  13. Peronella

    First time commenter, ever, on this or any site. I have a policy of not posting.

    I am Catalan, living in the US, and have been following this issue since the June 2010 demo when there were 1.1 million in the street protesting the revocation of Catalunya’s Estatut, and very intensely since the first Diada demonstration Sept 11 in 2012. My sources of info, besides family and friends in Barcelona are Catalunya’s daily papers: Ara, El PuntvAvui, El Món, Digital Nacional, Vilaweb are my main sources. Also the Catalan TV3, and the right wing 8 Al Dia TV, and La Vanguardia newspaper owned by the Godó titled family. La Vanguardia’s editorial line took a major turn to the right once Godó was reminded that he was “un Grande de España” by then king Juan Carlos. Godó’s title is, I believe a Count, and quite wealthy.

    There are a few Spanish language writers who “get it” about Catalunya. These are Spanish philosopher/intellectual, Ramon Cotarelo, The Gallego journalist and novelist Suso de Toro. They provide insight from a different angle.

    From time to time I consult some of the Spanish papers, but not often since their severe Catalanophobia is too hard to bear. The more prominent Madrid paper, El País is just a propaganda arm of the PP, although they did a decent job reporting on the Gürtel scandal, and the Noos scandal of the royal family, one of several. I am retired and have time to do this.

    As additional bona fides, let me add that 5 of my family members (plus wives), one which is in his mid 70s, spent the past weekend living inside 5 different polling stations to ensure they would remain open and accessible to voters.

    To the topic at hand: all of the Catalan papers that I read support the general strike, and have announced no, or reduced reporting for today.

    I am surprised to read here that the stance of the Generalitat is softening. I have not seen this anywhere in the Catalan newspapers. President Puigdemont is not likely to back down on a mandate from the people. It is not in his DNA. it must be remembered that the push to independence came from the people, not the Catalan govt who is responding to them. Let’s not forget that the previous Catalan president, Artur Mas, who was NOT initially pro independence made a u-turn in his position after seeing the massive street demo of Sept 2012. Just one week later he made a presentation at Forum Europa in Madrid where he laid out the case for Catalan independence very forcefully, even addressing the English language press present in English. it was stunning. He has since paid a heavy price for this.

    The major grass roots organisations at the forefront of the movement are ANC (Assamblea Nacional Catalana), Òmnium Cultural, and AMI (an association of Catalan municipalities for Independence), are the major ones.

    The actual declaration of Independence, according to the Catalan referendum law, must take place in 48 hours of a positive vote, or before the 16th or the 18th October, I forget which. This was known before the vote took place. Vicent Partal, founder and editor of Vilaweb has stated this. He is trustworthy. The Declaration has to come from the Catalan Parlament, and Puigdemont already instructed this body accordingly on Sunday. But, once the CUP party called for today’s gen’l strike, it was felt that a declaration on the same day as the strike would detract from the solemnity of the declaration. So, I have seen nothing in these papers that detects any caving. What I’ve read is that it will happen later this week.

    As for the EU, I sent this email out to some friends in the US with cc to Barcelona:
    The world now knows that Catalunya exists. And they got a glimpse of how Spain treats the Catalans. Yesterday’s display was particularly physical, but is an accurate representation of the nature of the relationship going back centuries.
    > Europe continues its deplorable head-in-the-sand stance. I think the Catalans should forget about the EU. The Cats know how to run and develop their economy. They will be fine on their own. The Port of Barcelona is state of the art, recently upgraded by the Chinese who built it’s infrastructure and became operational in the last 4-5 years. It was predicated on building a short rail connection to interior rail lines (it is a question of the gage of the rails). The Spaniards promised that rail would be built in time, but it was a Spanish promise. Now the Catalans will build it, plus many other things that Spain “neglected”.
    > My point is the Cats will be fine without the EU or NATO. They have ample skills and motivation. They are the quintessential “can do” people when they set their minds to do something. If the first few years are challenging, they simply have to remember yesterday and they will be motivated. The Cats have long memories. I do not think it would take very many years at all.
    > The next part of the work begins. Spain will not take this lightly, and the EU will have ample opportunity to disgrace itself further. The Cats know what they are up against.
    Bear in mind, part of this war is an informational war, and you have to know which papers and media are credible. Same as with the media in the US.

    BTW, to the Catalans that post on this site, you can consult all of these media on the web. I live in a rural Maine location, with sometimes iffy internet connection, and still manage.

    Sorry for the long post.

    1. Oregoncharles

      Thank you for the long post, and please continue. It helps a great deal to hear from someone who speaks the language and is reading local coverage.

  14. Anonimo 2

    Hi there, as a catalan reader I would like to give my opinion here.

    First of all, I would like to clarify that I am not independentist and I have always thought that for various reasons this referendum is a bad idea. I see my self as a federalist, and I would love to see Catalonia included in a more tolerant Spain and being given more freedom and autonomy, especially when it comes to taxes.

    Keep in mind that there is not such a thing as “the kingdom of Spain”. There are and there have always been 2 spains. One of them is obscure, iliterate and intolerant. The other, is more open-minded and progressive: this is the Spain where I want to belong, and I know that this isn’t the Spain that has cracked down on the referendum.

    The majority of people here is not independentist, but we are fed up with the current situation. Over-taxation and poor returns, abandoned infrastructures, constant attacks on our language, intolerance… I bet that people would forget independence soon if Madrid offered Catalonia to join the “Basque system” (foral system) and stopped it’s homogenizing efforts.

    Now about the referendum itself: the strategy has been disastrous and at least in my opinion the outcome will be that independence or federalism will be further than ever as a result. That’s because this referendum has polarized the spanish society and has strengthened the ruling Popular Party, the centralist wing of the Socialist party and the pseudo-liberals economic nazis of Ciudadanos. Podemos was the only big party willing to dialogate and listen to the Generalitat… A victory of Podemos would have been the only real way to change the things, yet ironically the identitary disputes have made sure that this won’t happen.

    Catalans have not played the long-term game, they (we) have put ourselves between a rock and a hard place, and we have lost leverage and we have given wings to the worst of part of Spain. The defeat will be really painful… but mind you, we are used to lose and we do love lost causes (just check our history).

    Again I will say: there is a part of Spain that you do not know, that is there awaiting for its moment again and that has showed itself this week: obscure, iliterate, medieval, scary, religiously-fanatic… this is the Spain we want to leave. And the Spain we want to stay with is the one represented by the ideals of the II Republic.

    Finally, thank you a lot for this great website. I read it almost everyday and I have to say that I have learnt so many things. The level here is just… astonishing, not being sarcastic, it’s a pleasure.

  15. Sue

    Breaking news! The King from the Kingdom of Spain to make a public announcement at 9pm local time (that’s noon PST). Speculation goes that he will strip the Catalan Autonomic Govern of any of his powers (an equivalent to Section 155 of Spanish Constitution , or Spanish Government takeover of Catalonia ,directly applied by the Crown)

  16. Oregoncharles

    The Catalonian leadership may have blinked, but judging by the videos I just saw, the escalation in the streets has only begun. At this rate, the leadership will be irrelevant.

    There is a way Rajoy can save the unity of Spain: by withdrawing the national police, soon. As it is, they’re a bone in the throat that will only get worse.

  17. Sue

    Speculation goes that since the Monarch is by the wording of the Spanish Constitution the Commander in Chief of the Spanish Armed Forces (the military) will act to circumvent the congressional approval Sect. 155 requires. We will find out in about 2 hours

  18. Anonimo 2

    Right now, it is being said that frustrated by the lack of violence, the spanish gov is trying to infiltrate secret police among the demonstrators to start riots. It is a tactic that has been already widely used to destroy the demonstrations of “15 M” (indignados).

    That might be true or might not. But Madrid has always showed that will use any trick in the book in order to crush dissent.

    They have even convocated a false demostration in “Via Laietana” just to have the opportunity to start some riots.

  19. Jon Cloke

    A long time ago (early 90s) I lived and worked in Barcelona and I was surprised by the strength of feeling the idea of a free Catalunya elicited, across the political spectrum and across age-brackets. As Erasmus students we used to have parties with the local students where they refused to speak Spanish because they said it was an imperialist language, and we couldn’t speak Catalan, so we ended up not saying much.

    I mentioned I found it a bit disturbing to a middle-aged businessman I was teaching English to who’d just been head-hunted by VW to go and work in Germany, and he looked at me sideways and said: “When I was at school, you could be punished severely for speaking your own language, Catalan; I got beaten badly for speaking my own language.”

    This guy was as cosmopolitan as they come but these things run deep; Rajoy has reacted in the worst possible way to reinforce the anti-Franco, anti-Madrid lessons of the past and support for independence will grow substantially as a consequence. Anyone who thinks the Catalans can’t and won’t opt for independence even if it damages the region, doesn’t understand history; Catalans wouldn’t be the first group of people to find themselves in charge of an independence they didn’t plan for and aren’t sure the want, thanks to the brutality and obduracy of a repressive central government.

    How do you think the US came into being..?

    1. JTMcPhee

      Catalonia does not have a whole continent to its west, to move into and loot. And no ocean between Catalonia and the seat of current power. And as a thoroughly disillusioned one-time Imperial troop, I might offer that the US “coming into being” has not, for the most part, been a “good thing.” Despite what the Narratives and shibboleths and mythologies say about “our vaunted freedom’n’liberty” and exceptional superiority in all things…

  20. JTMcPhee

    I hope everyone reading this post has taken a few minutes to also read the piece by Gaius Publius put up by Yves earlier today. Particularly his thinking, referencing David Graeber and other sources, on the manufacturing of a sense of hopelessness by the corporate plutocracy, to keep the rest of us telling ourselves, over and over, “there is no alternative, change is only for the worse…” Until too many of us come to believe the mantra…

  21. Jesus Martinez

    HI again.
    PlutoniumKun’s comments seem to me most insightful and clear. I would disagree with his judgement of the Catalan government’s actions (or rather paint them differently) , but hey, I am a partisan here. Other than that disagreement, all of his comments are spot-on to me.

    Yves, the control of the Catalan government payments is already on. The Catalan government is running on borrowed time. I’d say that it is a different scenario than Greece. If the whole payments system is brought down, that would be the EU’s decision, in my understanding. I don’t think that Spain can do that. And it would mean the expulsion from the Euro. And in practical terms from the EU, and that would mean that we are independent. Whether that state of things would be a good thing is a different matter, but I am arguing here assuming continuity in the European Economic Space. The Catalan government accounts are within reach of the Spanish government. The whole payments system I think is above their pay grade.

    The king’s speech has mentioned no specific measures but bodes ill as to the levels of violence that the Spanish government may use in the days ahead. So maybe the limited borrowed time ahead is not an issue after all. I think that the question of the level of violence that they can apply remains the main issue.

    Also, re. Peronella’s post: I think that the first part of her article regarding the situation in the country is good. And specifically her mentioning Vicent Partal is excellent. In you will find some articles in English. A bafflingly local-global perspective. He gets it, he has proven very realist, forward looking, and he remains extremely optimistic about our prospects for independence. But the second part of her post, the e-mail, mmmmm… This Russia/China options are just a fantasy. Sadly, in the pro-independence movement, there are many people that think that the EU will come to our rescue, and when they perceive that that is not happening they issue a f*ckall in the form of a Russian alliance.

    Anonimo 2 makes some good comments too, in my opinion.

    I have written before that the whole division of Catalan society ghost is just Spanish propaganda. Leaving the EU (the EES, really), being disconnected from France and Germany, would trigger serious divisions in the society. Reaching a consensus to quit Spain and the EU would take years. I think that they know that and that is why they are backing Rajoy at the moment.

    Anyway, I am not posting anything else today, I promise myself.

    1. RabidGandhi

      Vishnu help us. He said the same thing about Greece, and look how well that turned out.

      With friends like these…

      It’s all well and good for Stiglitz to say Catalunia would be viable if independent, but it is wildly reckless to say so without looking at what the transition would entail.

      1. Sue

        Yes, I agree with you.I shared the article with NC readers because it outlines a couple of interesting items for discussion.

  22. Sue

    Breaking News from BBC’s interview to Catalan President, verbatim: “Catalonia will declare independence from Spain in a matter of days”

    1. Oregoncharles

      Brace yourselves. The jackboots are marching, and as far as I know, Catalonia has no military of any kind.

  23. Susan the other

    The NC coverage of Catalonia has been so good… no other place has all this nuance and detail. I keep blinking back to the intro to yesterday’s post on Catalonia wherein a comparison to the Kurds and Kurdistan was made in passing. The Kurds being notoriously tenacious in their quest. They are now calling their endeavor for a new homeland an effort for ‘”soft” independence as they are willing to cooperate with all of their neighbors. Interesting. But Catalonia does not have the backing of a big brother, like the Kurds do. So they are at the mercy of Madrid. So for some reason I thought how nice it would be to have quantum referendums sort of on an on-going basis. More like a political field and when some question reached 51% in one direction it would collapse the wave function of the question; record the general response and gear up for the next day’s question/s. Real time politics. After all, we will soon have such speedy computers.

    1. Sue

      Susan, there is a logic across your post. I respect that. Yet, my view is that the historic reality and the reality from the last years does not match this logic. I.e the Estatut democratically voted was stricken by the partisan PP TC (C. Court), 80% from the polls on favor to a Catalan referendum over sovereignty, last 6 years marches ranging from 650k to 1.5 or 1.8 M, etc. There is not a capricious algorithm of the minute sustaining Catalan claims.


    Today the king broke all the bridges. I´m afraid the sequence would be unilateral declaration of independence a.k.a. DUI, the application and enforcement of art. 155 CE, then unchartered territory..
    My guess is that for the right wing elite Catalonia is already lost, and then would secure “the rest” and find an excuse for an Evian, preferible with a socialist president. This would take time and be dangerous and very painful for the whole Spain..

  25. Jesus Martinez


    morning tea time, and here I am, breaking promises:
    The king’s speech sounds to me like (expectable) hard-line (the Sacred Unity of Spain) but with limits: he distinguishes between Catalan leadership and Catalan institutions. To me that sounds like they are going to arrest the Catalan government, possibly pro-independence MPs, stop the Catalan Parliament activities and give it months (6? A year?) for things to calm down and then hold elections. Making the pro-independence parties illegal would be an option.
    By the way, in my previous post I forgot to mention Sue’s posts. Thank you for them, too.

  26. Peronella

    A few numbers for those who insist that the majority of Catalans want to remain in Spain. These are the results from Sunday’s vote

    Eligible voters 5.34 million
    Total votes counted. 2,262,424. The votes that the Spanish police did not take.

    YES vote. 2,020,144 — 90.9%
    NO vote. 176,165 — 7.87%

    Unmarked ballots. 45,586 — 2.03%
    Null ballots. 20,129. — 0.89%

    Potential votes that could not be cast because some voting stations could not open 770,000
    There is no way that the NO vote could overtake the YES even if the 770,000 were all NOs. Not even close.

    In a democracy, you only count votes that have actually been cast.
    If you do not bother to vote you do not get to whine about the results.

    And in a democracy you do not try to “win” an election by savagely beating up unarmed, non-violent peaceful people trying to vote.

    The intl, observers in a press conference expressed their satisfaction with the voting procedures, and harshly condemned the state violence. Their report will be forthcoming.

    1. Dan

      This was not a vote with any kind of guarantees. Few wanting to vote no were going to wait in long lines and risk being clubbed to do so. Voting no doesn’t inspire the same passion as voting yes. Voting is a kind of survey – it is usually very accurate because the sample size is very large – but this assumes there is not a large selection bias operating with respect to who votes – that is why the fair/free aspect of voting is so crucial – and in this case the voting did not occur in a context that allowed it to be useful for validating/legitimating anything. Even if one accepts that the disaster was entirely the Spanish government’s fault, the results of the vote are not useful, except for tendentious propaganda.

      A few more comments:

      Anytime a vote is 9-1 one should be a bit suspicious, at least of the context. Those numbers recall Stalin more than they do anything democratic.

      There needs to be self-reflection from independentists about why a large majority of Catalans did not vote. I don’t hear any.

      Independence isn’t just any old referendum. Half the votes cast seems a very low bar for such a very large decision.

      1. Anónimo 2

        Well actually, a large majority of catalans did vote. Turnout was 56% if you add the 770k votes stolen by the police. Keep in mind that many people were afraid since the streets were like battlefields and last but not least, this kind of turnout is extremely high for spanish standards.

        And about the 9 to 1. Yeah that is obvius, since almost only the separatists recognise the legitimacy of the rederendum. So to cut a long story short, unionists did not bother to vote.

        1. vlade

          770k is arrived to how? Catalan sources? They clearly have a self-interest (as do Spanish ones). Sorry, this # is suspect and can’t be added to anything that attempts to look like an ubiased analysis. In other words, for better or worse, the overall numbers indicate that a good part of Catalans wish independence – but not majority for anything.

      2. Sue

        i.e. Spanish European Cosntitution Referendum Total Turnout: 41%….and voters didn’t risk their lives to cast their votes…

      3. Sue

        I.e. Spanish European Constitution Referendum Total Turnout 41%…and votrers didn’t risk their lives to cast their votes

      4. Sue

        i. e more on Spanish European Constitution Referendum. Results, votes for 81%. Was this a Lenin-like referendum too?

    2. vlade

      As Dan says, this was very clearly a self-selected vote. It was not fair – to either party (yes or no), so the result is, from purely objective perspective, pretty much worthless.

      The turnaround didn’t even get to 50% of eligible votes, and YES was about 40% of all eligible votes. That for me doesn’t say “majority of Catalonians want independence” (or “want to stay in Spain either”).

      TBH, I object to Yes/No referenda on complex questions in principle. Swiss use referenda quite a bit, so they got used to them – and they have mechanisms how to cope too. Any Yes/No referendum is IMO entirely PR, especially since one side (Brexit/Independence/approve EU treaty etc.) can just repeatedly run it every few years until they get the result they want, in the safe knowledge that once they do get the result, backing off becomes incredibly hard.

      So using referenda w/o clearly set conditions (as in pre-defined qourum, inability to re-run anything similar for at least decade etc.) is just dirty politics.

    3. Basil Pesto

      It is disingenuous to make an appeal to democracy and its virtuous status in the public imagination without properly understanding its history or its mechanisms for function. It is not democratic for a partisan political party to organise a controversial referendum with hugely serious implications whenever it wants because, darn it, their cause is just the correct cause and it needs to happen, and then declare it binding. It is in fact quite undemocratic. Disconcertingly so. See also, from my post above:

      “unilateral secession isn’t particularly democratic. As far I can tell, there are very few if any democracies that allow it, or ever have. Maybe you think not being allowed to unilaterally secede is wrong (I don’t – the planet would just be comprised of about a million crackpot micronations) but it’s not correct to say or imply that it’s somehow un- or anti-democratic, or hypocritical for advocates of democracy to be against it.

      While doing some self-fact checking for this post I came across some materials. This is a fascinating look at the topic:

      This is a very reasonable essay on the question of unilateral secession wrt recent events:

      1. Sue

        “the planet would just be comprised of a about a million crackpot micronations ”
        We could use a ruler to make hundreds of thousands of subdivisions /micro-nations over a world map. Let’s just ignore historic processes and forms of domination.

  27. Peronella

    I’d like to share today’s (Wednesday) editorial by Vincent Partal, whom I mentioned earlier. This not meant to be a translation, just the salient points. The parenthesis are mine, for clarification

    Title:. The Proclamation of Independence is now hours, rather than weeks away. By Vicent Partal, Vilaweb.

    1  the proclamation of Independence is hours, not weeks away.  Given the king’s talk, legitimising the measures that the Spanish govt will likely soon apply, there is no longer any room for dialogue.  It is over.  The king’s speech clearly pressages the adoption of drastic measures, likely the dissolution of the (Catalan) autonomy.

    2. In such a situation, the Catalan Parlament has only one option: the immediate proclamation of Independence.  The intent to formally apply Art 155  (any and all means necessary etc) , or even possibly send the Spanish army to Catalunya can only be met with this response.  Among other reasons because after the proclamation of independence, the president of the republic can immediately order the Mossos d’Esquadra (Catalan police Mossos for short) to defend the civilian population from new aggression.

    3.  In all  independence struggles there is always one spark that accelerates the process and brings it to closure. And we have reached the spark. Partal refers to the 1991 attack on Lithuania’s parliament and a comm tower;  the 10 Day eslovenian war, as two well known examples. 

    4.  Yesterday, (during the general  strike), throughout the day Catalans demonstrated with enormous serenity and dignity their determination to be free, and the Parlament of Catalunya must act consequently when convenient but without delay.  It must do this out of respect for the enormous effort people made during the referendum campaign,  during the Sept 20 coup (when the Spanish police came ashore), during the voting weekend, and yesterday (another massive demo/general strike, massive, throughout Catalunya, not just Barcelona). 

    5. Parlament must proclaim it also because otherwise there will be nothing left  to salvage. The autonomy of Catalunya will have disappeared in a matter of a few hours, and with the end of the autonomy the only possible path is that of liberty, of the republic and of independence.

    1. St Jacques

      Majority of Catalans do not support independence. The governing clique of Catalonia are only a minority government. They were only able to pass their Law of Rupture on the 6 and 7 of September by taking adavantage of a half empty Parlament at the end of the holidays and ram through the unconstitutional legislation with less than half a day’s debate and by blocking all ammendments.

      Secondly, it is nonsense to say there is no way out of this in this pause before Puigdemont declares the DUI (declaration of unilateral independence) in two days. The problem and the opportunity is in the PP’s past discriminatory handling of the Catalan Statute of Autonomy back in 2006-07 while denying the very same articles they permitted for the statutes of Valencia and Andalusia, for party political reasons. That is where the room for something positive exists. The king taking a firm line against independence and upholding the constitution does not prevent that. Rajoy is now in a weakened position because of his inept handling of the whole affair. The PP is a minority government, and this has strengthened the hand of the other parties, especially the PSOE with the support of the CCs. Now if Podemos will come to the side of the PSOE, there could be real progress and both Spain and the Catalonia can be winners out of this. The Catalans will win what was discriminately denied them and the Spanish constitution will be re-affirmed.

    2. Sue

      Yup. Did you notice the painting behind the king ? A portrait of Carlos III de España, who with an iron feast repressed the Catalan people and banned the Catalan language

  28. Peronella


    In my previous post, this sentence in paragraph 5:
    5. “Parlament must proclaim it also because otherwise there will be nothing left to salvage”.
    should instead read:
    5. Parlament must proclaim it simply because now we have nothing left to lose.

    That’s better.

  29. Kate

    So what does Catalan want to exit from again? Do they want their own currency or euro? This is just dumb to the core!

    1. Jesus Martinez

      leaving Spain but staying in the EU, for which the European Economic Space would be an acceptable ersatz (for a while). No Euro leaving.

      Upon agreement, we take our share of Spanish public debt with us (how much would be in itself a whole discussion, but methinks the EU would push for a lot. It would be better than an independence war).

      1. vlade

        Sorry mate, not ging to happen.

        EU can’t take Catalonia in if it goes independent – even amicably. At best it can fast-track its application. If Catalonia leaves unilateraly, expect Spain to veto anything to do with it. Economically, probably even worse disaster than Brexit.

        It’s interesting – EU brands itself as “Europe of regions”. And often it is – in its programmes and grants. But in terms of political control, it’s firmly EU of central governments. The often mentioned “democratics deficit of EU” – well, a lot of EU officials are appointed by EU governments on their behalf, which I don’t really see any more undemocratic than the self-same governments appointing unelected officials in their own countries – and EU electorate pretty much ignores EU parliament, so it doesn’t have the authority to do much. If EU was really politically Europe of regions, it would be IMO much better Europe. But I very much it’s going to happen anytime soon, if ever.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          Yes, I think an unintended structure of the formation of the EU is that it has created a ‘catch 22’ for any newly independent State within the Union.

          When you look historically, new nations only usually secede successfully when either the ‘host’ country or empire disintegrates and so is in no position to stop it, or when there is strong outside support for the new State. So Ireland split reasonably successfully from the Empire primarily because public support in the US (driven by Irish communities in the US) made it impossible for Britain to strangle the new state from birth as it would have done had it been one of the African or Asian colonies. The Baltic States and new countries like Slovakia had overt support from the EU and the US to make the transition. East Timor had outside aid and support. When that doesn’t exist you end up with failed States or countries caught in perpetual limbo, like Somaliland or Kurdistan.

          The reasons why the EU is not keen to support any internal secessionist movement is pretty obvious – no State wants to provide indirect encouragement to domestic nationalist groups so its reflex action would always be to seek internal solutions within individual nation states. But in our interconnected world, as we’ve seen with Brexit, it is almost impossible for a modern economy to exist without the entire panopoly of trade agreements. The only possible way Catalonia could avoid a complete collapse in trade on independence is if Madrid didn’t object, or if Spain was expelled from the EU. Neither of course are remotely likely.

          I don’t think its a feature, but an unintended bug, but the EU has had the effect of encouraging seccessionist movements on its borders (Slovenia, for example, could rapidly secede from the former Yugoslavia and join the EU quite seemlessly and successfully), but making them almost impossible internally.

        2. Colonel Smithers

          Thank you, Vlade and PK.

          I agree with both of you, especially Vlade’s preference for a Europe of regions. The EU architecture, with reform, could morph into a modern patchwork like the Holy Roman Empire or the apanages of medieval France. Perhaps, my interest in medieval and early modern history, which included being taught by Spain experts Henry Kamen and Paul Kennedy, is showing :-).

          See you soon, Vlade?

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