History is in the making in Europe. Independence has been stopped in its tracks on Friday and Spain confronts a constitutional crisis as never since 1978, when Francisco Franco met his eclipse. Forty years after the restoration of democracy, it is the power of the people that now poses a grave challenge.
The Catalonian parliament’s vote for independence ~ verily a signal to break away from Spain ~ was predictably greeted with dances and glasses of cava. But that starryeyed euphoria was dissipated within a few hours when the National Senate voted overwhelmingly to approve the sweeping provisions of Article 155, which will enable the government in Madrid to assume direct control over Catalonia. On closer reflection, the vote for independence coupled with Madrid’s decision to take control of the region cannot solve the festering dispute.
On the contrary, the vote of the separatists and the official counter-blast have served to deepen the crisis since Friday. Barcelona has lost for now; nor for that matter has Madrid come up trumps. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is said to have sought the support of his cabinet for taking control of the region and dismiss its President, Carles Puigdemont.
The contrasting moods can scarcely be reconciled ~ the rollicking applause on one side of the fence and the determined, yet quiet, pledge of the central government to “restore legality” at another remove. Independence is opposed by many Catalans as well as Spain in the larger perspective, and the rest of Europe. It is an index to the enormity of the crisis that Madrid has taken recourse to Article 155 ~ generally referred to as the “nuclear option” ~ against Barcelona. The legislation has never been invoked ever since Spain returned to democracy after the death of Franco. Doubts will linger over whether Friday’s vote was unanimous not least because half of the Catalan legislators are reported to have walked out of the House.
It is, therefore, a damaging cocktail both for the country and the region which is ever so divided on the issue of secession. That division within arguably explains the promptitude with which Article 155 was given the green signal. In a word, Spain is in crisis and it has become far worse than what it was before Friday.
It will not be easy for either side to bandage the wounds. Whether or not the self-rule referendum in Catalonia was illegal need not detain us here. Equally, the Rajoy government was impervious to legal and civil rights when it dismissed criticism of police brutality in the anti-referendum operations. There can be no legal response to resolve this problem, and rightly has the Belgian Prime Minister, Charles Michel, cautioned Spain that a political crisis can only be solved through dialogue.
There is little doubt that Madrid’s hamhanded and initially indifferent response to the independence movement has ignited passions in Barcelona. The cry for freedom becomes ever more resonant.