Catalonia lurches into the unknown after high court suspends referendum

If at the beginning of this year, I had marked out the predictable events in Catalonia’s bid for independence, the suspension of the independence referendum by the constitutional court on Monday, September 29th, would’ve been the final one. It wasn’t surprising that gigantic crowds would protest for independence on the 11th of September. It wasn’t surprising that the Scottish referendum would be wielded by Catalans to make their case that the right to self-determination can be applied peacefully and democratically. Lastly, it wasn’t surprising that the Spanish government would move at the highest speed to suspend the efforts by the Catalan government to hold a vote on independence. The exact dates would’ve been hard to pin down but the order unmistakable. It was a plot you could read out chapters ahead, but then with total abruptness, the climax is totally out of sight.

Now one must ask an unanswerable question: What happens when hundreds of thousands of people who are deeply committed to seeing Catalonia’s independence aren’t even allowed a non-binding vote? To get an idea, it’s worth remembering that Catalonia has been intensely debating its relationship with Spain for a decade now, going back to the autonomy statute in 2006 that was scaled down by this same constitutional court in 2010. This disappointment is a crucial part in the rise of independence sentiment over the last few years, a rise overly attributed to the economic crisis by the international media. Catalan aspirations for self-rule can only suffer so many setbacks before the rupture between Catalonia and the Spanish state becomes complete. The ruling Spanish conservative party seems indifferent to this risk.

There’s another crucial aspect to what’s happening in Catalonia. The pro-referendum forces are a majority in the regional parliament, but it’s the most awkward arrangement (they’re not formally in government together) between center-right Catalan nationalists and three left parties that consist of the republic left, eco-socialists, and the gloriously far-left party CUP which explicitly calls for the independence of not just Catalonia but of all the “Catalan Countries” on either side of the French and Spanish border, as well as supporting open borders and the liberation of migrants held captive by Spanish immigrant detention facilities. The only thing holding this Catalan parliament together is the prospect of a referendum; take the referendum away and you in all likelihood have snap elections that will measure the extent of the rupture I just mentioned. If the past nine months went according to script, the next nine months are a leap into the unknown.

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