How Did Things Get So Bad in Catalonia?

by Don Quijones, Wolf Street:

Will Spain trigger Article 155 of the Constitution?

Unless concrete measures are taken to calm tensions between Madrid and Catalonia, one of Spain’s richest, safest and most visited regions could soon be plunged into chaos. With neither side willing for now to take even a small step back from the brink, the hopes of any kind of negotiated settlement being reached are virtually nil, especially with the European Commission refusing to mediate.

Since Sunday the Spanish government has even ruled out dealing with Catalonia’s president, Carles Puigdemont, and its vice president, Oriol Junqueras. In other words, the communication breakdown between Madrid and Barcelona is now complete.

But how did things get so bad in Catalonia?

The answer, to borrow from Ernest Hemmingway’s The Sun Also Rises, is “gradually, then suddenly.” While the standoff between Madrid and Barcelona has been on the cards for years, it’s been brewing so slowly that many people were caught off guard when riot units of Spain’s National Police and the Civil Guard began using brutal violence to prevent people from voting in Catalonia’s banned referendum.

Now, what we have on our hands is a full-frontal clash between two diametrically opposed nationalisms that has roots dating back centuries. The most recent tensions were inflamed in 2010, when Spain’s highly politicizedSupreme Court, at the urging of the now governing People’s Party, annulled many of the articles of Catalonia’s recently agreed Statue of Autonomy, effectively stripping the agreement of any meaning. Gone was any chance of any fiscal autonomy. That this happened just as the Financial Crisis was beginning to bite in Catalonia hardly helped matters.

Since then, the Rajoy administration has refused to offer greater fiscal autonomy for Catalonia, or the chance to hold a legitimate referendum on national independence. The argument is always the same: the 1978 constitution forbids it from doing so and it can’t change the constitution, although the Rajoy’s party voted to change the constitution to enable Spain’s bailout of its savings banks while in opposition in 2011.

Catalonia’s regional government, the Generalitat, in the face of such intransigence and seeking to deflect public attention from the brutal austerity cuts it was making, began to take matters into its own hands. Little by little, disobedience became defiance, which gradually evolved into open rebellion.

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