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  September 13, 2017

Catalonia and Spain 'Playing Chicken' Ahead of Independence Vote

One million people took to the streets in Barcelona to support Catalonian independence from Spain. The movement plans for a referendum on Oct. 1, in violation of a court ruling declaring the referendum unconstitutional, explains Carlos Delclos of Roar Magazine
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Carlos Delclós is a sociologist, researcher and editor for ROAR Magazine. His research interests include international migration, social stratification, fertility, urban sociology, social movements and cultural theory


GREGORY WILPERT: Welcome to the Real News Network. I'm Gregory Wilpert in Quito, Ecuador. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps even a million demonstrators took to the streets in Barcelona, Spain last Monday to show their support for Catalan independence. For the past five years, the annual National Catalan Day has been a rallying point for those who support greater independence of Catalonia from Spain. This year though, it took on particular significance because the regional government is organizing what they are considering a binding referendum on whether Catalonia should become independent from Spain. The referendum, which is scheduled for October 1st, will take place among much tension, because the central government in Madrid has declared it to be illegal and is threatening to take measures to stop it.

Now joining us to discuss these developments is Carlos Delclos. He joins us from Barcelona, and is a sociologist and member of the ROAR magazine editorial collective. Carlos, thank you so much for joining us today.

CARLOS DELCLOS: Thanks for having me.

GREGORY WILPERT: It would seem that the Catalan independence movement, which is being led by the regional Parliament's president, Carles Puigdemont, is heading for a collision course with the Spanish government moving forward with this independence referendum. Tell us about what's going on and what might happen come October 1st.

CARLOS DELCLOS: For the last several years, Catalonia has been mobilizing for independence, as you said in the lead-up to this interview. Really a lot of that started the year, in 2010, when the Spanish courts declared Catalonia's agreement on regional autonomy with the Spanish government, approved by the Spanish government. They declared it unconstitutional. This really sparked an enormous backlash. Since then, we've kind of seen repeated attempts to either celebrate a referendum or apply more pressure on the Spanish state to give way towards demands for more regional autonomy for a referendum and for independence.

In the last few months, what we've really seen though, is kind of a game of chicken between the Catalan institutions and the Spanish institutions. This culminated just a few days ago really when the Catalan Parliament passed a law of transition that basically puts it in a direct confrontation with Spain's institutionality. As you said, it's not just the referendum that's being declared illegal, but a lot of what the Catalan government is promoting at this point is viewed by the Spanish government and the Spanish courts, unfortunately, as illegal. Again, what we have is sort of a game of chicken, where each side, Catalonia and Spain, is constantly upping the ante.

GREGORY WILPERT: How does it look in terms of support for this? I mean, according to some statistics that I've seen, the population has been relatively divided between those who identify more Spanish and those who identify more Catalan. In what way do you think this referendum will head when it comes to voting October 1st?

CARLOS DELCLOS: Well, I think whether or not the referendum actually happens is on the one hand, it's still up in the air because the Spanish government is doing everything in its power right now to prevent it from even happening. How is society split on it? Well, basically the most representative polls have for a while now had Catalan society very evenly split. It's unclear what would happen in a legal binding referendum. Now, in the referendums or in the symbolic actions that have happened until now, of course, the yes has won because the fact that you support independence is a motivating to even go participate in those actions.

There is one thing that I would kind of, I guess I would not correct, but I would change in the presentation, which is that it's not so much at this point about whether people identify as Spanish or Catalan. With the Spanish government's repression, it's become a little bit more about whether or not the Spanish Central State is more democratic than what a possible Catalan State would even be. Even if Catalan society is split 50/50 on what would happen, on whether or not they want independence, they are not split on whether the referendum should be held. There's 80% support for that.

GREGORY WILPERT: What about the other sectors of Spanish society, particularly in the political parties? Last year, for example, the issue of Catalan independence was one of the reasons that the Socialist Party and Podemos, the far left party, could not form a coalition to govern Spain. What positions, for example, are the Socialist Party and Podemos taking now that the election's coming up a year later?

CARLOS DELCLOS: Well, Podemos has, for a long time, supported Catalan's right to decide. Now whether that is sort of a right to decide within a legal framework that is recognized by the Spanish State is sort of the confounding factor here. Podemos' counterparts in Catalonia have long expressed their support for self-determination, but they have emphasized the legality of the process and kind of the institutional formality of it, the legal guarantees that are required, a census. All of these sort of things that you need to have free and fair elections. And which, in many people's view, this sort of confrontation with the Spanish government at this point is making very difficult to have happen.

The left is divided in a sense on this issue in so far as we consider the Socialist Party the left, which is debatable. But I think they are seeing in the current situation an opportunity through which they could potentially create a coalition between the Socialists and Podemos and the Nationalist Parties to offer Catalonia more regional autonomy after getting Mariano Rajoy out of the central government, which would require a motion of censure. And I think this is very much in the air as a possibility. Now the question is whether it has any legitimacy or whether Catalonia is past that point.

GREGORY WILPERT: Well it seems that this issue is particularly difficult for the left because on the one hand, they would support self-determination, but on the other hand, there must be a recognition that separation of one of the country's wealthiest regions, which is Catalonia, would mean a diminishment or tax revenues for the rest of the country, which could potentially benefit poorer regions. What is the left argument in favor of independence in this particular case?

CARLOS DELCLOS: Well, the left argument in favor of independence in this case has to do with other things that are kind of, you know, before ... Well, they have to do with the issue of Spain being a monarchy and Catalonia preferring a more Republican approach to politics. They have this idea that there is a more civilized, less aggressive right in Catalonia, which is sometimes, you know, not very clear if that's the case. I personally don't have a ... I wouldn't pretend to know what the correct left position is on this. I do think that there are many people in the Catalan left that believe that this is the first step towards truly reforming or changing Spain and getting rid of the monarchy, and getting rid of a central government that is tremendously corrupt, that is tremendously indebted to the dictatorship that ended in the 1970's. And so they view this as a way to once and for all break with Spain's more authoritarian past and inspire what they call a constituent process in the rest of Spain.

GREGORY WILPERT: I see. Well actually, that's something I wanted to get back to is also the effects that this will have on the government on a national level. You mentioned the possibility that this could perhaps lead to a change in government on the national level. Is there any chance and how would this exactly happen? Prime Minister Rajoy is governing without an absolute majority and with a toleration basically of the small conservative party, Ciudadanos. How could this happen? How would a change in government come about?

CARLOS DELCLOS: Well, a change in government could happen first of all because the Partido Popular, Rajoy's party, is embroiled in corruption scandals, which require court interventions. I mean, you know, just yesterday, the city of justice, or the judicial, the courthouses in Valencia, which is really the center ... Valencia's really the center of a lot of the Partido Popular's largest corruption scandals. They suddenly found that all of their records were on fire. That the alarms didn't go off and that a lot of the evidence was, you know, potentially destroyed. With these kinds of outright actions that seem to indicate that the Partido Popular is, you know, involved in a lot of corruption scandals. And Mariano Rajoy's kind of nonchalant attitude about it. There's very much the possibility that the Socialists, the Podemos, and frankly even Ciudadanos can see some incentive in joining together to oust Mariano Rajoy.

Now whether or not that would lead to an agreement with Catalonia, that suits all sides, is another political question, somewhat separate from the viability of a new central government. It's pretty hard to say. If anything, this situation is producing a tremendous amount of uncertainty. The other thing that it's producing is a lot of independentists because the central government's response to all of this is to remain obstinate, to not negotiate, and to play a heavy hand. At the same time, a lot of the independence movement, some of their figureheads have said in the media here that, in part, what they'd like to do is [inaudible 00:11:15] up a strong reaction on Spain's part to finally push the rest of Catalonia on their side. This is a very, very dangerous game of chicken that, you know, I think there is a space opening up amongst people that would like to see a reasonable approach to all this, that kind of avoids this confrontation. But at the same time, we may very well be past that point and it's unclear.

GREGORY WILPERT: Well, we'll definitely keep a close eye on this and especially as we get closer to October 1st when the referendum might or might not take place, and we'll get back to you. Thanks so much, Carlos, for talking to us.

CARLOS DELCLOS: Thanks so much for having me.

GREGORY WILPERT: And thank you for watching the Real News Network.


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