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Political atmosphere to get 'hotter' as Catalonia vote approaches, Spanish history scholar says

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

LAWRENCE — Leaders of the Catalan independence movement in northeastern Spain are poised to vote for independence Oct. 1, though the Spanish government is taking steps to impede the vote.

A University of Kansas historian is available to discuss the historical context of the Catalonian movement and the political situation there.

Luis Corteguera, professor of history, studies early modern Spain. His first book, "For the Common Good: Popular Politics in Barcelona, 1580–1640," examines how popular politics shaped the relations between Madrid and Barcelona in the decades leading to one of the greatest crises in Spanish history, the Catalan Revolt of 1640.

Q: What are key things to watch ahead of the potential referendum Oct. 1?

Corteguera: Key things to watch ahead of the referendum are what steps the Spanish government will take to interfere with the preparations for the vote. In recent days, police have confiscated signs promoting the referendum, as well as lists with the names of poll officials, although it has not located yet ballots and ballot boxes. More seriously, the government in Madrid has "intervened" Catalan finances, which means that it's attempting to control all government expenditures to prevent any money from going to activities related to the referendum. In addition, it remains to be seen what actions the courts will take toward the more than 700 mayors who have publicly declared their willingness to facilitate poling sites or toward other Catalan officials who are refusing to comply with court orders. If disrupting the vote is the main strategy of the Spanish government, pro-independence supporters are counting on a massive show of support in the streets demanding to vote. 

Q: Is there significance to countries like Hungary saying they would support the will of the people in a referendum?

Corteguera:  Officially, no European Union government has stated they will support a unilateral declaration of independence by Catalonia and consider the matter an internal affair of Spain. Numerous politicians in Europe and elsewhere, however, have expressed support for a referendum for Catalans to express their opinion. There have also been many calls for a negotiated solution, although the Spanish government has rejected any international mediation.   

Q: Is there anything potentially different this time that could create a path forward to independence in Catalonia after such a long but unsuccessful history of the secessionist movement?

Corteguera: On the early hours of Sept. 7, the Catalan Parliament approved a law by which, if the referendum results favor independence, Catalan authorities will begin the secession process from Spain within 48 hours, which would be Oct. 3. That process includes immediate measures nullifying the jurisdiction of Spanish courts in Catalonia, among other measures seeking to end Spanish authority in the principality. Nearly everyone agrees that the chances of independence winning the referendum are high because of the expected abstention of opponents of the referendum.

The referendum approved two days before the law of secession requires no minimum percentage of voter participation to make it valid and a simple majority to approve the results. It's unclear what steps the Spanish government would take in case of a declaration of unilateral independence. There has been talk of a "suspension" of the autonomous government under article 155 of the Spanish constitution, which might potentially include military intervention. 

Thus far, there has been a concerted effort on the part of pro-independence supporters to abstain from any violence, as well as on the part of the Spanish government to arrest Catalan authorities or deploy the military. Nobody expects this situation to change, although the heated political atmosphere is likely to get hotter as the date of the referendum approaches.