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Europe

Pro-independence Catalans divided over next step

© Ander Gillenea, AFP | Catalan pro-independence supporters wave the 'Estelada' flag during a demonstration called by Basque unions supporting the strike in Catalonia, in San Sebastian on October 3, 2017.

Text by Ségolène ALLEMANDOU

Latest update : 2017-10-06

Although they all voted in favour of Catalonia’s independence in last week’s referendum, many “yes” voters are now split over the next step for the region. The fissures run deep among voters and politicians alike.

The October 1 referendum showed an overwhelming victory for Catalonia’s pro-independence activists, with some 90 percent of voters having cast a “yes” for the region’s divorce from Spain. But the low turnout (42 percent), Madrid’s constant refusal to recognise the “illegal” vote, and political divisions over how, and when, the region should claim independence, have cast a dark shadow over what should have been Catalonian regional President Carlos Puigdemont’s victory dance.

Despite Puigdemont on Wednesday declaring his intention to declare the region independent “in the matter of days”, the Catalans now seem all but united on the issue.

Anna, a 30-year-old psychologist, said she has been in favour of Catalonia’s independence since day one, but that she doesn’t see the rush in declaring a split from Spain. “It would be so much better to wait,” she told FRANCE 24, adding it would be much more beneficial for the region to first enter into dialogue with Madrid and the European Union.

‘Not enough people voted’

Twenty-seven-year-old council worker David, who also cast his vote for a separation, said that the low turnout prevents the region from claiming independence unilaterally. “There weren’t enough people who voted ‘yes’,” he said in an interview with FRANCE 24.

“By having mobilised nearly two million people [out of Catalonia’s 5.3 million eligible voters] we can only hope that the Spanish government ceases to be indifferent to us and our cause and agrees to finally negotiate with the Generalitat [the Catalonian regional parliament]. We have waited for this for several years. After that we could organise a legal ballot in which everyone takes part.”

Nora, a 28-year-old town hall employee, said she does not see any reason for delaying Catalonia’s independence claim. “It’s the logical next step with 90 percent having voted ‘yes’ in the referendum.”

“I just hope that the international community will support us following the violence committed by the national guard and [Prime Minister] Mariano Rajoy’s heinous speech,” she said.

Divided coalition

The differences in opinion reflect the same type of divisions also plaguing the regional parliament.

The region’s leading coalition party “Junts pel ” (Together for a ‘yes’), is pushing for a symbolic declaration of independence to be announced imminently, but wants to hold off with any further action for at least a few months. The strategy behind this move is that it might allow more time for Spain and the EU to enter into negotiations over the matter – without causing any disruptions to the Catalan economy or damage to the region’s international image.

But the Catalan European Democrat (PDeCAT) party, which is also in the coalition, is more moderate in its stance and wants snap elections for the Catalonian parliament, which it hopes will pave the way for a legal referendum to be held.

The third coalition partner, the far-left Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) party, however, wants none of the above and is putting pressure on Puigdemont to respect the regional laws linked to referendums and trigger a separation from Madrid “without delay”. The two pro-independence movements, the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and the Òmnium Cultural, and which managed to get thousands of Catalans out into the streets to demonstrate for their rights, both back the CUP in its call. Such a swift divorce, however, would result in Spain’s national police and national guard being withdrawn from Catalonia and the Generalitat would no longer profit from Spanish taxpayers' money.

Puigdemont, who prior to the vote said he favoured negotiations, has now found himself in a rather tricky situation, where he needs to find a solution that will please even the most radical of the region’s pro-independence movements. While the ANC has the power to bring Catalans into the streets to fight its cause, the CUP  flexed its muscles on October 3 by organising a widely supported strike action. Ada Colau, Barcelona’s leftist Mayor who was among the 80 percent of Catalans who supported the holding of the referendum, however, recently reminded the separatists that they would not be able to claim independence “on their own” as long as no one else recognises it.

Puigdemont, meanwhile, is trying to run down the clock, hoping the EU will be able to convince Rajoy to enter into talks with the regional government.

This article was adapted from the original in French

Date created : 2017-10-06

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