GP Insights

GP Insights # 168, 19 October 2019

Spain: The trouble in Catalonia
Rashmi Ramesh

What happened?

Following a Court verdict on the separatists, Catalonia has been witnessing widespread violence during this week. Protest marches in support of Catalonia's independence have turned violent, leading to clashes. There were massive clashes and stone-pelting at Plaça Urquinaona, forcing the police to fire rubber bullets, shell teargas and use water cannons. 

Though the Catalan President and the Parliament support the cause, they condemned the violence and urged the protestors to restrain from vandalism. 

What is the background?

The call for independence in Catalonia within Spain has been brewing during recent years. They claim an independent history, language and culture that is distinct from the Spanish. There have been sporadic protests on the taxation system, especially the distribution of financial resources, where Catalonia is "made" to pay for the development of more impoverished regions of Spain. 

There have been annual rallies reinforcing the cause of independence in Barcelona. 2017 was a tipping point when the Catalan Parliament passed a resolution for independence. 

The present round of violence is related to detentions made during 2017 protests. Nine separatist leaders who were arrested then, have been sentenced to prison by the Spanish Supreme Court. 

What does it mean?

The Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has stated that, though Spain provides the right to dissent and express differing perspectives, violence is unacceptable. The priority for the government now is to maintain its territorial integrity and put an end to the violence. There are indications that the government would activate Article 155 of the Constitution that would allow it to take direct control of Catalonia by suspending the regional government. 

In the wake of upcoming elections, the right-wing opposition is pressurizing the government for more stringent actions against separatism. There have been incidents of right-wing supporters clashing with the pro-independence Catalans in Barcelona. 

There are similarities between the two movements in Catalonia and Hong Kong relating to techniques, slogans, the use of social media, and the airport blockade. Will the Catalonian dissent be able to sustain like the Hong Kong protests, or will it bite the dust, as it did in 2017? 

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