October 10, 2017 Last Updated 7:52 am

Catalan separatist leader blinks, confusing both supporters and detractors of independence effort

Carles Puigdemont was expected to issue declaration of independence from Spain in highly anticipated speech today, but finding little support from European leaders, said he was suspending declaration, then held a signing ceremony anyways

This website, either as a Blogspot blog, or a self-hosted news site, has been around a while now. I remember begging fellow publishers to pay attention to goings on in the Middle East and the so-called Arab Spring. And last summer this site, along with its sister site at PoliMedia (now shuttered) begged publishers to pay attention to what was happening with right-wing media and Russian interference with the election. I am proud to say I was right both times, but there is little satisfaction in it as the reaction to both events has been weak and the end results unsatisfactory.

Well, for the past two weeks I have said that journalists better pay attention to goings on in Catalunya because there seems to be a serious effort at independence. In fact, for a day or two, the region was front page news, especially on October 2, the day after the referendum on independence was met with violence by Spanish authorities.

The referendum took place, but now it appears that the leaders of the separatist parties have pulled back from the ledge and decided to buy some time. They will get that time — probably decades of time, in fact.

Catalans watch the debate today in parliament, with most left disappointed in the results.

Today in parliament, Carles Puigdemont, President of the Generalitat of Catalunya, gave his long anticipated speech. But rather than issue a declaration of independence, walked up to the ledge and then backed away. He told parliament of all the perceived grievances the region has endured in a speech that sounded as if he had read the Declaration of Independence written by Jefferson which states that a new nation should outline the reasons for a split from the mother country before declaring its independence. He did just that, for over 20 minutes, before announcing that he would suspend any declaration in hopes that negotiations can result in what the separatists dream of.

Photo: Liz Castro

Later, after parliament had adjourned, members of parliament favorable to declaring a republic symbolically signed a declaration. But the moment had passed and few opponents will take the signing seriously.

Things have fallen apart for the separatists because too many Catalans object to the idea of creating a new nation. How many? We don’t know because the response to the referendum from Madrid was to send in the police, and from within the region to boycott the vote. As a result, everyone can argue about the October 1 results, with separatists having a good argument for a mandate, and those against independence sure that the vote was illegal and not representative of the public as a whole.

Europe’s leaders, meanwhile, have backed Madrid, and without support from Europe there is little hope for independence. Catalans know this because they remember what happened to the Republic in the ’30’s, when most of Europe (and America) stayed neutral while Germany and Italy assisted the fascists to win the Civil War.

My Twitter timeline is split in two on this issue (at least those who are actually paying attention). Supporters of independence still believe, but always seemed naive, that this time things would work out. Those against have been firm in their opinion that Catalunya must stay within Spain, and many seem to be encouraging outright violence against those who disagree. It has been a good object lesson on the lure of authoritarianism among otherwise sane people.

I’ve seen this before when another European crisis was centerstage: Greece. Those who thought the only solution to Greece’s financial problems was an exit from the EU believed that while it would be sad to lose EU membership, only having their own floating currency could solve their deep debt problems. Most of these people were living in Greece at the time. But others, all of whom were living abroad, were firm in believing that saving the Euro was more important, and argued strongly against the election of Alexis Tsipras.

Just as in Catalunya, one side won, initially, but the other side won eventually. In Greece, Tsipras won, but Greece walked back from the ledge and continued to compromise with Europe (read: Germany). In Catalunya, the separatists filled the streets and won the referendum. But it appears they will not win the final prize.

Spanish media, which advocated a hardline against the separatists and support the right-wing government, cheered the decision to suspend independence declaration.

All this is not only to get TNM readers up to speed about events, but to admit I was wrong about this one. Carles Puigdemont, President of the Generalitat of Catalunya, has blinked, and the story of the new Catalan republic is a non-starter.

I guarantee you that many of those I know who have advocated for independence will disagree and fight on. But independence is rarely won in negotiations with those who see no value in allowing a split of their nation. Worse, the current Spanish government is itching for a fight and would not mind spilling Catalan blood over the issue.

Are Catalans willing to fight? No, they don’t believe that in 2017 that should be necessary. That’s all well and good, but the Spanish government in Madrid, let alone that in the White House, have rarely as if it is really 2017.

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