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Puigdemont in Brussels: an “ambiguous” script that is hard to decrypt

A month has passed since Catalonia’s Referendum of October 1st. The deposed President Puigdemont is in Belgium; he entrusted his "defense" to a Belgian lawyer. For the time being he has no intention to seek asylum in Belgium, nor to appear in court. Great anticipation for the election of December 21st, announced by Madrid’s central government to normalise the political and social situation in Catalonia

(Foto: AFP/SIR)

The presence of the deposed Catalan President Carles Puigdemont in Belgium, Tuesday October 31st, raised new concerns in the public opinion. His presence triggered a plethora of questions: what is he doing there? Is he seeking the support of EU institutions to his claims of independence? As known, both the EU and its member Countries have voiced their support to the measures adopted by the central government to solve this “internal matter” pertaining to Spanish politics. Major media outlets post updated news on this controversial figure and on the deposed counsellors of Catalonia’s government, required to appear before the magistrates of the “Audenzia Nazionale” November 2-3.

A well-known script. For several national and international media outlets the presence of Puigdemont and seven of his counsellors at the International Press Club in Brussels last Tuesday was one of the many “shows” the Country has grown used to. A certain ambiguity characterising his moves is equally surprising. On the one side he entrusted his defense to Belgian lawyer Paul Bekaert with the purpose of continuing to uphold his claims of independence, on the other he said he would abide by the December 21st  elections announced by the central government as the final stage of a season opened with the activation of article 155 of the Constitution to normalise the political and social situation in Catalonia. Many people who ignore the history of Catalonia and its relations with the rest of Spain, are probably wondering how we reached this surprising stage of a script that seems to have been written for a movie, with aspects reflecting the so-called post-truth facilitated by a cunning use of the media. As known, the deposed Catalan government resorted to a US company to spread information on the  pro-independence “process.” Maybe the internationalization of the conflict, with the arrival of Puigdement in Brussels, is a chapter of this script.

The history of independence. Catalonia’s claims for independence date far back in time, and caused rivers of ink to flow. It was not the first time that Catalonia made attempts to independence. The last historical episode can be traced back to 1934, when Lluís Companys proclaimed the Catalan State inside the Federal Spanish Republic. Like today, even then the central government intervened and independence lasted only one day. The military coup and General Franco’s dictatorship made no concessions to political pluralism, even less to separatist movements. The Constitution of 1978 is a complex text resulting from endless negotiations to include all involved parties, that gave rise to Spain’s present political map. A Country made up by 17 “autonomous communities” plus two “autonomous cities” on the North-African coast, each with its own “autonomous government.” They have the same juridical administration but with differences linked to the historical development of each. In accordance with the Constitution this configuration envisages the increasing competences set by the central government. Moreover, this asset did not satisfy the independence movement of Catalonia and of the Basque Country.

The confused reasons of the independence movement. Notwithstanding the known reasons of conflict between the central government and the autonomous communities (some with a broader scope of competences), it remains hard to understand the underlying reasons for “wanting to leave”, which over the past few days has reawakened what some observers described as “Spanish nationalism.” There were never as many Spanish flags draped on the windows of every city since Spain won the world football cup in 2010. On the other hand, pro-independence Catalans fail to understand why they should be bound to a Spanish identity they feel alien to.

A divided region. The conflict is first Catalan and then Spanish. After decades of inflows of immigrants from the rest of Spain (especially manual labour), the Catalan society is practically split between pro-independence and unionist claims. This can be seen in the outcome of Catalonia’s Parliamentary elections in 2015: 72 MPs from the independent “bloc” and 63 unionists were elected. However, parliamentary representatives don’t always reflect social reality. Electoral systems are far from perfect. Hence on the whole each pro-independence MP represents 29.891 voters, while each unionist MP represents 31.757 votes. We’ll wait and see what happens on December 21st.

(*) director of Ciudad Nueva (Spain)

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