The Catalan Parliament voted to declare independence from Spain on Friday afternoon, with 70 votes in favour, 10 against and 2 blank, in a 135-member chamber.
The Speaker, Carme Forcadell, read out part of the resolution from the Speaker’s chair before separatists voted.
Opposition parties abandoned the chamber. Xavier García Albiol (PP) said separatists were cowards who were afraid of Spanish criminal law and that is why they wanted to vote in secret.
Junts Pel Sí asked for the vote to be secret, and the Speaker agreed, despite opposition protests. Those MPs who had remained behind placed their ballots in a box placed on the Speaker’s table.
After the vote, the members remaining in the chamber sang Els Segadors.
The Spanish government’s response was swift. Within minutes of the Catalan Parliament’s declaration, the Spanish Senate overwhelmingly voted to activate Article 155 of Spain’s 1978 constitution. Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy used this law to dissolve the Catalan government, and announce provincial elections to take place on December 21st.
On the foreign relations front, while the United States State Department issued a statement supporting Spain’s efforts to keep Catalonia within the country, Russia is playing a different game. El País reports that a Russian envoy has opened an office in Catalonia:
A politician from South Ossetia known for his political affinities with Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Barcelona this week, with the goal of establishing ties between Kremlin circles and a hypothetical independent Catalonia, according to Spanish intelligence sources.
Dimitri Medoyev, the de facto foreign minister for the partially recognized republic of South Ossetia, was on an official visit in Catalonia on Monday and Tuesday. During this time he met with business leaders and opened an office “to promote bilateral relations on humanitarian and cultural issues,” according to reports in Russian public news organizations such as Sputnik.
Before visiting Catalonia, Medoyev stopped in the Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto just as they were holding referendums to ask Rome for greater autonomy. While he was there, Medoyev met with local and regional leaders.
Neither the Catalan government nor separatist authorities in South Ossetia would comment on whether Medoyev met with high-ranking Catalan officials or lawmakers during his Barcelona stay.
While it may be easy to reflexively dismiss such moves by Russia, it may not be wise to do so. Russia is clearly interested in, at the very least, understanding the secessionist movements that are on the rise across Europe. These movements, along with the populist movements, are clearly on the rise. And they’re paying very close attention to what happens to Catalonia.
“We understand and respect the position of the Catalan Government. While Spain has the right to oppose independence, the people of Catalonia must have the ability to determine their own future. Today’s Declaration of Independence came about only after repeated calls for dialogue were refused.
“Now, more than ever, the priority of all those who consider themselves friends and allies of Spain should be to encourage a process of dialogue to find a way forward that respects democracy and the rule of law. The imposition of direct rule cannot be the solution and should be of concern to democrats everywhere.
“The European Union has a political and moral responsibility to support dialogue to identify how the situation can be resolved peacefully and democratically.”
Basically, Scotland is telling the European Union that it better work to peacefully address the tensions between Spain and Catalonia. Otherwise, it will seek out partners who indicate that they will listen to secessionist movements.
Such as Russia.
Meanwhile, libertarians, while encouraged by the possible breakup of a larger political entity, do not exactly see Catalonia becoming a free market paradise anytime soon. As Robert Wenzel notes:
Catalonian secessionists are mostly hardcore leftists, who would push for an oppressive leftist government in a separate Catalonia. On the other hand, Spain is putting on display its iron fist and its desire to rule.
While this is certainly the case, if Catalonia were to actually break free from Spain, there would be knock-on effects that could be positive for freedom that we haven’t contemplated at this point.
For example, as smaller regions breakaway from larger political units, it will become that much more challenging for larger countries to service debts incurred to maintain their welfare states. If welfare states actually buckle under, while there could be intermittent turmoil, there would also be opportunities to dismantle welfare programs, thereby allowing for greater freedom.
However, that is getting ahead of the current situation. What matters now is that Spain and Catalonia are at an impasse. Whatever happens going forward, let us hope that, at the very least, there is very little if any violence.