The Catalan regional parliament has voted to declare independence from Spain, just as the Spanish government appears set to impose direct rule.
The move was backed 70-10 in a ballot boycotted by opposition MPs.
Since the initial independence vote, which was marked by violence as police shot voters with rubber bullets, the situation has been escalating and appears to be headed for a crisis. Earlier today, the prime minister sought authority to invoke an article of the Spanish constitution that calls for “direct rule.” The New York Times reports:
Earlier on Friday, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy urged the Spanish Senate to invoke Article 155 of Spain’s Constitution, allowing him to impose direct rule on Catalonia, as the country’s careened into its greatest constitutional crisis since it embraced democracy in 1978.
In his address to the Senate, Mr. Rajoy said there was “no alternative” because the Catalan leader, Carles Puigdemont, and his separatist cabinet had pursued an illegal and unilateral path that was “contrary to the normal behavior in any democratic country like ours.”
“Direct rule” means the Spanish government will claim that the regional government has no authority. They will send in police and possibly the military to enforce that order, arresting the members of the regional government if necessary. I’ve seen no indication that the regional government plans (or has any real ability) to respond with its own show of force; its leaders have spent recent days seeking dialogue with the Spanish government. For its part, the Spanish government has been demanding, as a condition to any talks, a clear statement from the regional government that independence is off the table. Today’s action shows that the parliament has decided instead to further escalate.
Clashes between a central government and a subset seeking independence can get violent. Parallel to the Catalonian independence movement, there was an independence referendum in Kurdistan, where the Kurds held a largely symbolic vote overwhelmingly in favor of independence. The Iraqi government moved into the oil-rich area of Kirkuk with considerable force. At least 11 civilians were killed and 30,000 Kurds displaced. The Kurdish referendum is now widely considered to be a miscalculation, simply because of the violent Iraqi reprisal. (It is the world’s way to consider the use of guns to “settle” political questions. I often hear Americans say that the Civil War “settled” the issue of whether a U.S. state may secede.)
The Kurdish and Catalonian situations are obviously separate and unique, but there is a common thread: the desire of a smaller and relatively homogeneous population to rule themselves. I’m concerned that there may soon be another parallel: men with guns taking the lives of innocent people.
I support the concept of self-rule. But both sides need to take a deep breath and take a step back, and talk about the matter, rather than bringing out the firearms. I’m worried that a lot of people are going to die “settling” this question.