Thu, Oct 05, 2017 - Page 9 News List

Spain’s heavy-handed tactics have only inflamed separatists

By Therese Raphael  /  Bloomberg View

Rajoy was in a difficult position as Spanish leader, but he had cards to play. He had the support he wanted from his EU counterparts. He had support from his nation’s highest court, which declared the vote illegal. He had Catalan opinion, Spanish national opinion and fair economic winds all on his side.

And while separatist leaders like to paint their movement as a historically fated and united front, the truth is messier; a motley mix of anarchists, anti-capitalists and center-right parties with different agendas and conflicting worldviews had used the cause to build their power base and rally support.

From that high ground, Rajoy might have sought to appease centrist Catalans with concessions, such as infrastructure spending and eventual discussions on enhanced autonomy.

There were some token promises, but as the independence vote loomed, he instead chose to escalate tensions, arresting officials and seizing control of Catalonia’s finances and security apparatus.

Rajoy unleashed a barrage of investigations and prosecutions meant to frustrate the vote.

Catalonia’s high court — which operates separately from the Generalitat, Catalonia’s government — launched investigations of the Catalan Cabinet on charges of disobedience and misuse of public funds, which is punishable with a prison sentence.

There are investigations of regional lawmakers and others connected to the vote.

Spain’s own high court submitted a complaint on charges of sedition against some of the protest organizers on grounds that they disrupted the work of federal authorities by calling on protesters to surround buildings where raids were being conducted. About 700 Catalan mayors have also been placed under preliminary investigation.

Writing in Britain’s Guardian newspaper, Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau — who supported the referendum, but not independence — lambasted Rajoy’s government for seeking a judicial solution to what is essentially a political problem.

“There are many non-separatists, such as ourselves, who, while critical of the unilateral path taken by the Catalan regional government, are calling for a negotiated solution in accordance with the feelings of 82 percent of the Catalan population, who support the holding of an agreed referendum, like the one conducted in Scotland. That is why it is a mistake to think the Catalan question can be resolved by taking legal action against its political representatives: Following that path will only help to raise social tensions and block any possibility of finding a way out of the conflict,” Colau wrote.

Rajoy gave Catalan separatists exactly the coup de theatre they needed for a campaign that only a short time ago looked quixotic.

Whatever happens next, pro-independence forces in Catalonia have received a powerful boost, while Rajoy’s government has lost legitimacy in the eyes of many.

It has also angered the Basque Nationalist Party, on which Rajoy’s weak minority government relies for votes — it had to withdraw next year’s budget last week for lack of support.

“Stop this escalation of radicalism and disobedience once and for all,” Rajoy ordered protesters recently, sounding like an exasperated parent addressing offspring who have grown up, left home and no longer need to obey.

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