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CWA # 179, 1 November 2019

Europe
Is Catalonia Spain’s Hong Kong?

  Rashmi Ramesh

Catalonia is not another Hong Kong. The Catalonian crisis is being doused by the forces deployed by the central government, while in Hong Kong, the local police are handling the crisis.

Catalonia is not another Hong Kong. The Catalonian crisis is being doused by the forces deployed by the central government, while in Hong Kong, the local police are handling the crisis.

What triggered the protests?

The previous week witnessed violent protests in Catalonia. Peaceful protest marches in Barcelona and other parts of Catalonia turned violent, leading to clashes between the police authorities and the protestors. In order to control the violence, the police resorted to firing rubber bullets and shelling teargas. The Catalan President Joaquim Torra i Pla and the Catalan Parliament supported the more significant cause, but condemned the violence. They urged the protestors to restrain from vandalism and causing harm. 

The fresh round of violence was triggered by the recent verdict by the Spanish Supreme Court that sentenced nine pro-independence leaders on the charges of sedition. These leaders were part of the 2017 protests in the region. This enraged the Catalonians, who gathered in huge numbers and expressed their discontentment. 

What Catalonia wants?

Catalonia’s demand for independence is not a new phenomenon. They have a different history of around a thousand years and a different language apart from Spanish. However, in recent years, protestors were triggered due to the taxation system. Catalans are discontent about central taxes which are used to induce development in other parts of Spain. In other words, they express displeasure regarding the distribution of financial resources, where they are “made” to pay for the development of more impoverished regions of Spain. 

It should also be noted that not all Catalonians wish to secede. According to a poll that was conducted by the regional government in July this year, 44 per cent of the people in the region prefer independence, while 48.3 per cent oppose it. Therefore, it cannot be concluded that Catalonia categorically wants independence. This was reflected in the unity march that was held on 26 October in Barcelona. Approximately 80000 people joined the march calling for Spanish unity. The Catalan population is divided in this regard.

What is Spain willing to give?

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez was firm in telling the world that Spain will not be provoked by the violence. The priority of the government is to maintain law and order, defend the constitution and uphold the principle of peaceful coexistence enshrined in the constitution. He also said that people were free to express their ideas, displeasure and demands in a peaceful manner, rather than destroying the public property and resorting to violent clashes with the police. 

Apart from arresting scores of protestors, the government issues an arrest warrant against the former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont who is said to be behind the protests. Aware that he would be detained, he escaped to Belgium. Spain is now looking ahead to extradite him. 

The government is also looking for legal options pertaining to the constitution. There are indications that if the violence continues to brew, it might activate article 155 which will allow the central government to take direct control of Catalonia and suspend the regional government. 

In the wake of elections in the country, the right-wing opposition had upped its ante against the government for not doing enough to curb the violence. It called for more stringent actions against those Catalonians who were responsible for the widespread violence. There were also reported incidents of right-wing supporters clashing with the protestors at Barcelona. It is generally observed that the opposition supports the people’s demand against the government on a range of issues. However, in Spain, the opposition is batting for stricter measures on the people to curb separatist movement. 

Is Catalonia Spain’s Hong Kong?

Spain’s Catalonia is being compared to China’s Hong Kong. The current unrest seems to have some striking similarities with that of the ongoing protests in Hong Kong. It was observed that similar tactics were being used by the protestors in Catalonia. There was an effective use of social media. Protestors created an app known as Tsunami Democratic, which was used to mobilize people quickly, at designated places. Protests were held in the airport on similar lines. Agitators purchased affordable flight tickets to enter the El Prat airport at Barcelona, held demonstrations and blocked it for few hours. 

Interestingly, there were reports of gatherings, meetings and informal seminars across Catalonia, about the Hong Kong protests. Catalans who are against the Spanish authority, consider the former as an inspiration and attempt to emulate the tactics used by them. 

Why is Catalonia not another Hong Kong? 

As it was seen earlier, there are similarities amongst the protestors at both the places. However, it must be noted that they belong to two very different countries. The population, political system and even the cause of the movements are very distinct from each other. It seems that there is a difference even in the longevity and resilience of the protests and the movement itself. While Hong Kongers are going a long way in harbouring dissent, Catalonia has lowered the rage, and there is a clear divide in the population. 

The Catalonian crisis is being doused by the forces deployed by the central government, while in Hong Kong, the local police is handling the crisis. Hence there is a variance in response to their respective crises. The international community and the media also have their own biases when they deliberate upon Catalonia and Hong Kong. Undoubtedly, there is a wave of negative response to China’s actions in Hong Kong. It came out as another reason for the international community to project the Communist government in a poor light. However, this is not applicable to the Spanish government. There is very little coverage of the Catalonian crisis by the media, in comparison to its counterpart. In addition to it, there is no international outrage on how protestors in Catalonia are being reprimanded by the authorities. For all these aforementioned reasons, Catalonia is not another Hong Kong. 

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