What is going on with the Catalan independence?

A few days ago, one of the main Spanish newspapers, El País, leaked a selection of quotes. These quotes were taken from the Catalan regional government’s (Generalitat de Catalunya) secret draft version of legislation. The leaked documents indicated that if Catalonia is prevented from holding a democratic referendum on independence, the region would break away from Spain unilaterally.

As a former researcher of politics and human rights activist living in Barcelona, I decided to share my thoughts about the dangerous situation. But first, before you start throwing stones at me, I want to state that I write this article only as a political observer. For me personally it is really the same if Catalonia finally decides to break away or not.

What is a unilateral declaration of independence?

Most of you know what unilateral declaration of independence means. But just in case, let’s check it out.

catalan flagA unilateral declaration of independence is made by a dependent state without the assent of the protecting state. The term was first used when Rhodesia declared independence in 1965 from the United Kingdom (UK) without an agreement with the UK. link

In other words, without a friendly agreement with Spanish government, Catalonia would break-up the official ties and contracts with Spain and the rest of the world unilaterally.

Hopeless poker strategy

Because I really hope that the Catalan government’s leaked strategy is just a bluff, let’s see the situation in the terms of a poker game.poker game

In this last round of the world poker tournament of independence, Catalonia sits right to the left side of Spain (the big blind). The rest of the world is sitting in the other positions around the table and the U.S.A is shuffling.

The tournament has been really hard for Catalunya. During the game, round after round, the Catalans have lost chips to Spain (taxes). Together with Spain, they have also lost a lot of hands especially to Germany (workers). Catalans suspect a foul play and think that Spain has made secret alliance with the rest of the world against their interests. But Spain has lost already too many chips to win the entire tournament (depression).

In this end stage of the game, the antes (corruption) are too much for the Catalans. They don’t have enough chips to play for another round and they must go all-in. Spain is in a better place. They had a bigger stack in the beginning of the game. Now Spain sits on the big blind’s. They can relax, observe the betting round and react after everybody else has placed their bets.

Before the flop, Catalonia is dealing with bad cards (unilateral declaration). The poker faces on the Catalan politicians can’t hide the situation and they know it. They also know that the rest of the world and especially Spain knows it too. Spain is aware that Catalan has to bet all their chips at once and Spain will call.

If the Catalan government decides finally to go all-in, the rest of the world will fold (don’t recognize the independence). There is a long diplomatic tradition that foreign countries do not help break away countries politically, especially in cases where the declaration of independence is made without a mutual agreement and without armed forces.

In the end, when Spain calls the bluff, there will be a lot of disappointed and angry Catalans in the streets. There will be no winners.

Nationalism is a dangerous game

If the Generalitat holds on to this leaked strategy, it will only lead to a serious conflict. The members of the government, or at least their advisers, should know their history. There is not a single country in the world who has managed to get unilaterally independent and internationally recognized without war or armed conflict. I definitely don’t think that Catalan politicians are so talented that they could do peacefully something that has never been achieved before.

riffles war

But it looks like that there is no solution in site. It is just a matter of time when a frustrated citizen (for or against the independence) pulls a trigger and hurts somebody. The Catalan politicians should understand, that breaking mutual agreements or even threatening to break them unilaterally, is bad news for the economy.

Unilateral declaration of independence would make Catalonia an independent country but a failed state.



  1. Very concerned about this. Puigdemont is playing a very dangerous and stupid game with the Spanish Government, and this recklessness could lead to massively negative consequences. In my opinion, there is absolutely no possibility of a positive outcome should Catalunya unilaterally declare itself an independent state. I see the following possibilities;

    1. Catalunya holds the referendum on 1 October. The independentistas will most certainly win, because there is no minimum turnout required. Even though those Catalan’s who want to separate from Spain are in the minority, their vote will win out because those opposed to Separating also view the referendum as illegal – as ruled by the Spanish court. So the only ones going to the polls will be those who view it as legal or the court ruling as irrelevant (and having no jurisdiction – an argument already put forth by the Government of Catalunya).

    2. Catalunya then declares independence. The Spanish government will immediately say it’s an illegitimate declaration and will take measures to prevent Catalunya from breaking away. This could lead to a dissolution of the regional government, and if that doesn’t do the trick, a military occupation of Catalunya. Hard as it is to imagine in this day and age in Western Europe, but a totally plausible possibility.

    3. Catalunya declares independence, the Spanish government gets involved and basically arrests anyone involved in the referendum, including Puigdemont. Totally feasible but a very dangerous strategy long term as it risks inflaming the populace and pushing more people into the independence camp, especially since the Catalan government is incredibly good and painting themselves as victims and downtrodden freedom fighters.

    I cannot foresee a solution in which Catalunya is allowed to break away from Spain. This would set a horrific precedent, and I cannot imagine it would be a peaceful resolution to the current constitutional crisis.

    • Thank you Jack for your comment. Yes you are right, I also think that there will be no peaceful resolution for this conflict. The situations seems to be heating up as the date for the referendum is getting closer. The Catalan Government keeps on with their hopeless strategy. They are still trying to negotiate with the Spanish Government, but Madrid will most likely turn all their negotiation offers down. They cant negotiate with a Government who is acting clearly against the constitution and against the decisions of the constitutional court. If Madrid would start the negotiations over the independence referendum, they would break the law themselves.

      If the Catalans manage to cast their votes on October 1, the result will be most likely yes, like you said. But today I think that the Spanish governments strategy includes removing all the ballot boxes with force during the voting day. They have already ordered the Catalan police force (The Mossos) to act. I think we will also see the first violent clashes with Police and pro-independence voters during the voting day.

      On October 2 the constitutional court probably rules out that the referendum result is null. Then the streets are going to be once again full of angry pro-independence demonstrations.

      Two months ago I really thought that Spanish Government would allow the Catalans to vote and after they would just not recognize the result. But today I think that Madrid will end the voting with force.

      If the Catalan Government still decides to declare the independence unilaterally, then the government will remove the politician of the Catalan government and convoke new elections in Catalonia. I do not believe that they will arrest the Catalan politicians. But they will make them pay. The courts are probably going to incapacitate the pro-independence leaders from politics and make them pay monetary fines. I do not believe that they would put Catalan politicians to jail. It would make them look like martyrs .

      Maybe the unrest in the streets will escalate and lead also to a political crisis in the Spanish government as well. In that case there will be maybe new parliamentary elections both in Catalonia and in Spain before the end of 2017.

      The situation is getting really interesting… But I am also really worried.