The geography, economy and culture of a state profoundly impact the political relationships that occur within state’s boundaries. To keep state sovereignty viable, all political participants must be willing to work and fight together to maintain governmental stability. Once separation movements arise, the state’s sovereignty begins to weaken. The Catalonian separation movement has sparked international controversy by how it threatens the stability of Spain and questions the legitimacy of Catalonia. Fearing economic ruin, civilian safety, and decline in tourism, the Spanish government has crackdown on the movement to ensure that Catalonia remains a part of Spain. In early November 2017, the separation movement hit a deadlock by how the pro-independence movement’s leaders have been called for trial and the Spanish government’s enforcement of Article 155, which revokes Catalonian political autonomy. The fight towards Catalonian independence has amassed to its main politicians either jailed or abroad, loss of Catalonian control over the province, and an uneasy fate for the future of Catalonia.
The province of Catalonia is located on the eastern border of Spain and is blessed with beautiful beaches, which accounts for its major income—tourism. Catalonia has its own language, Catalan, which is a distinct romance language that’s only spoken in Catalonia and Andorra. One of the major catalysts for the Catalan separation movement was the death of Spain’s dictator, General Francisco Franco in 1975, after a thirty-six year rule. Under his dictatorship, all symbols of the Catalonian culture—language, history, and background—were outlawed, thus suppressing the Catalans’ sense of ethnic pride. Once free from his dictatorship, the Catalans pushed anew for their independence and recognition as a separate state. The separation movement gained strong support by how many believed that Catalonia had the credentials to become an independent state – it possesses a defined geographical location, a unique language, and a culture that ties its inhabitants together. The desire for independence stems from the cultural differences between the Spanish and Catalans and the feelings of repression felt by the Catalans during the Franco era and in Spanish society in the present day.
On October 1st 2017, Catalonia held a referendum, which resulted in 90% of Catalans voting in favor of independence. Fast-forward a month later and nearly all hopes of independence have been extinguished. The Former President of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, and 13 other cabinet members were summoned to the Spanish High Court this week with charges of rebellion, sedition, and misappropriation of public funds as a result of the Catalonian independence movement. Each member faces up to 30 years in prison by how they defied the Spanish constitution and law against provincial separation. Puigdemont himself fled to Belgium to avoid his trial that was scheduled for November 2-3rd, which he refused to attend until he was guaranteed a “fair trial.” Despite being abroad, Puigdemont continues to act as the head of the Catalan pro-independence government and calls upon the Catalan people to fight against the “most serious attack on democracy” committed by the Spanish. He continues to paint Spain as a repressive regime that refuses to acknowledge the referendum. Yet, the Spanish government has used all its power to quell the referendum by using Spanish constitutional law as means of halting the independence movement.
The Spanish government is determined that the leaders of the Catalan independence movement will be held legally responsible for their breach of Spanish law. Rajoy’s installment of Article 155 on October 21st dissolved the Catalan government and placed Rajoy in direct control over Catalonia, which used to possess its own political autonomy under Puigdemont. Upon declaring Article 155, Rajoy stated that the measures were not about “suspending the region’s autonomy, but rather returning legality and self-governance to Catalonia as soon as possible,” highlighting that the Spanish government desires Catalonia to stay in the country, but can still maintain its autonomy in the long-run. Although Rajoy acts within the Spanish code of law, Puigdemont continues to depict Spain as a place with “no legal or democratic guarantees” and even went as far as television pro-independence speech in Catalan from Brussels. The speech sparked the Spanish High Court to issue an international arrest warrant for arrest Puigdemont along with the rest of his four former Catalan ministers hiding in Belgium, all of whom failed to appear in court earlier this week. The High Court Judge, Carmen Lamela, blames Puigdemont for “taking advantage of his role” and for “holding an independence referendum to achieve the succession of Catalonia within Spain,” which is illegal under Spanish law. Others in Puigdemont’s cabinet, such as ex-deputy premier Oriol Junqueras, have been Madrid penitentiaries by how the High Court deemed them as a high flight risk. The Spanish government is taking strong actions to ensure that Catalonia remains apart of Spain. Trailing Puigdemont and the rest of his cabinet helps ensure that the separation movement will come to an end.
The trial for Puigdemont and his ex-ministers is scheduled for November 17th before a Belgian judge in a Belgian court. All five politicians turned themselves on Sunday due to the international arrest warrant against them. The Belgian judge will determine if the members are to be sent back to Spain to face charges of rebellion, sedition, and misappropriation of public funds or if they were just politicians voicing an opinion. Whatever the ruling maybe, an appeal is likely to happen by the Spanish government. Puigdemont has hire Paul Bekaert, who specialized in asylum and has worked with the Basque terrorist’s group ETA, as his lawyer. The Catalan separation has turned into an international crisis by how the movement has infiltrated Belgian politics. The upcoming trial will determine whether the 5 Catalans were acting as patriots for change or traitors of the Spanish state.
The once hopeful future for an independent Catalonia has now only become a dream. The demand for Puigdemont’s arrest, the loss of Catalan control of Catalonia, and the jailing of many top pro-independence officials has made the possibility of independence even harder to achieve. The movement lacks the legal rights and international support to move forward without the top officials working to mobilize Catalan independence. The future of the movement will be interesting to witness. For years, the Catalans have been fighting for independence, only to have their desires suppressed by the Spanish government. Will the incarceration of the separation leaders effectively stop the movement or will the Catalans successfully mobilize to achieve independence without their top leaders? The jailing of Puigdemont’s cabinet signals a halt in the independence movement, but doesn’t guarantee that the Catalans won’t continue their fight towards independence.