Life in Culebrón

Thursday 7 September 2017 - 1-O

There is only one news story at the moment in the Spanish media. Catalonia. The bit of Spain that rubs up against France and has a Mediterranean coastline.

Some Catalans want a divorce from the rest of Spain. The Regional Government tried to hold a referendum in 2014 with questions about whether the voters wanted a separate, independent state. The answer was yes. But as the Spanish legal authorities had declared the referendum illegal it only went ahead in a half hearted way. Turnout was low and there was no update of the electoral roll so that the result could only be seen as a wide scale consultation. Later, the politicians who had mounted the referendum, had to face legal action and some important figures were barred political office as a result. The possibility of punitive fines is still grinding through the legal system.

There can be little doubt that Catalonia has an identity. Other regions in Spain, particularly the Basque Country and Galicia have independence movements too. I'd better include Andalucia in that list too because the Andaluz president got pretty uppity about being left out yesterday. The struggle for Basque independence was the motor behind the ETA terrorist organisation for instance.  The parallel is sometimes drawn between Catalonia and Scotland but the big difference there is that Scotland was, for centuries, a distinctly separate country. Catalonia, on the other hand, was, a principality of the crown of Aragon. When Isabel and Ferdinand married in 1469 they united Castille and Aragon and so laid the foundations of modern Spain.

What's happening at the moment though is remarkable. On one side there's a Catalan political party formed from the remnants of other nationalist parties backed, in the Regional Parliament, by a group who are usually described as anti system. Between them they have a majority in the Regional Parliament and they have used that majority to push through the call for another referendum on October 1st. They have faced opposition from most of the other groups in the Parliament with the local grouping of Podemos doing quite a lot of fence sitting.

On the other side is the Government of Mariano Rajoy, backed on this one, by two of the three other big political parties. The Government strategy has been not to negotiate but to block the Catalan Nationalists with every possible legal, financial and procedural obstacle they can think of.

There seems to be no doubt anywhere, except amongst the Catalan Nationalists, that the referendum is illegal. The Constitutional Court has said so and lots of organisations that deal in international law have agreed that there is no legal basis for the proposed vote. The nationalists have legal arguments too and they repeatedly ask how holding a vote, the very basis of democracy, can be unconstitutional.

For the past couple of days, as the Catalan Parliament pushed through the referendum legislation and the law for the transition to a Catalan State afterwards the President and Vice President of Spain have given press conferences. Listening to the VP, as I cooked the rice, I was absolutely convinced that she was going to announce that arrest warrants had been issued. They hadn't. Just strong words.

There is, within the Spanish Constitution an article designed to deal specifically with this potential scenario. Article 155 basically says that if a region threatens the stability of the nation then Central Government can use all of the state apparatus to stop it. Tanks on the streets as it were.

It's like watching one of those nature programmes where Attenborough tells you that usually the animals just face each other until one or the other backs down but there's always the possibility that it will turn into a lot of death by head butting. Neither side seems to want to talk to the other, neither side is for backing down. It's as fascinating as it is boring. I don't think I can bear to listen to another radio discussion where the same old stuff is regurgitated time after time but make no doubt about it, Spain is in the middle of a huge constitutional crisis.

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Day to day life in the Spanish village of Culebrón in inland Alicante


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