As you can imagine, the independence supporters were elated, somewhat belated, but elated all the same. Members of parliament were joyfully singing the Catalan national anthem, Els Segadors, and pro-separatists were rejoicing in the street as they embraced their new-founded freedom from Spain with the enthusiasm of children on the first day of summer vacation.
The Central government didn’t share in the merriment, and didn’t take long to respond. You kind of expect that to happen when a region in your country has just declared itself a sovereign nation. Rajoy called a press conference and made a fairly lengthy set of announcements, which could be summed up in the following:
- The Catalan Parliament was henceforth dissolved until further notice, (that doesn’t happen every day).
- The regional government was removed from power. (that was also a novelty)
- And regional elections were announced to be held on December 21st. A snap election, as they call it.
Was this all a good idea? We’d find out in a no time. But the fact was, he pretty much had no choice.
If Puigdemont had hoped his declaration would trigger support from around the world, by six o’clock, he was soon getting the message that he was terribly wrong. The total number of nations recognizing Cataluña had added up to zero. And it didn’t get It was that pitiful. The EU in block rejected the notion. They weren’t going to spur on an onslaught of peoples wanting independence. The U.S. said no too, stating that Catalonia was an “integral part of Spain” and that it backed any and all “constitutional measures to ensure unity.” So, that was definitely a no.
So, without about no one in the world willing to stand by them, the secessionists vowed to make a stand on their own. They cried out words like “dictatorship”, “oppression”, “repression”, “coup d’etat” and “resistance”. And I mean a lot of resistance. Passive resistance, active resistance. The Spanish government could try and do what it wanted, but if it thought it was going to be met with cooperation from the Catalan people, they could forget it. And I could see it happening. I really could.
Well, what a letdown. Pandemonium did not spread throughout the countryside. Spanish-speakers were not abducted and tossed into the nearest lake. Guardia Civil was not plowing into schoolyards. Franco had not arisen from the dead. Catalan was not being spoken on the beaches of the Costa del Sol. All hell was not breaking loose. Instead, people were getting home from work, nursing a beer and watching Netflix or getting ready for some tapas. It was essentially what you’d call…a Friday evening. Status quo, big time. It’s one of those undaunted characteristics of the Spanish. The caña is the caña.
Levity aside, a highly significant reaction from the ashes of the takeover was that there was practically no reaction at all? For the love of God, Madrid had just deposed the regional government, dissolved its parliament, suspended its home rule and taken control of its institutions. Except for the use of the armed forces, can you get any more pro-active? Can a region be anymore humiliated? If the hard times the separatists claimed Catalonia had suffered over the decades had really been true, wouldn’t this have been the ideal time to stand up for their rights? This, if we were to believe their discourse on how poorly treated they were, should have been their Gandhi moment; the Martin Luther King moment; their Nelson Mandela time. So, where in God’s name was the resistance? I mean, apart from the threats and a few days of protests and outcries, where was the forecasted fight to the end? With all the alleged oppression, suppression, repression and God knows what other kind of -pression, where was all the outrage? Where were the factory slow downs, the administrative obstruction of orders, the strikes, the boycotts, the sit-down protests, the sabotage, the defiance? Ubi sunt? Ubi erant? It just doesn’t add up, I’m sorry. Were things really as desperate as they had made them sound? Or maybe most weren’t willing to sacrifice their standard of living, their livelihood…their, God forbid, their lives. In many ways, I can thankfully say no, for the sake of everyone. But it does make me wonder, and it should everyone.
One person who did have a course of action planned as head of the planet’s newest nation was their trusted leader, Carles Puigdemont. Trusted, that is, until it became apparent what he had planned up his sleeve. A plan few people would have imagined. Flight. In the traditional sense of the word. He left. He ran off. He, and five other deposed ministers, bolted for Belgium, of all places, to seek refuge.
Now, just what did this generally drab country have to offer a fugitive of the law other than its outstanding chocolate and excellent beer? It wasn’t because it was the capital of the European Union, Brussels, I can assure you that, as the European Commission president, Jean-Claude Junker was made very clear that he would not find solace from EU institutions.
But it was near Brussels all the same, and that never hurt. Plus, Belgium also had a coalition government formed in part by a separatist party of its own, which dreamed of founding a Flemish state. They were most sympathetic towards the Catalan independence cause and welcomed exiles Catalonia as if they were refugees. So, holding out abroad until it is the right moment to return has been done throughout history, and successfully on occasion. But it’s a gamble, and it doesn’t always pay off.
You see, not everyone saw this as a brilliant and necessary move. Others held a very different opinion of Mr. Puigdemont’s unexpected maneuvering. The press in Spain had a field day and even his allies raised some eyebrows. After all, Carles’ number two man in the government, Oriol Junqueras, stayed back and faced the music. He was sent to prison. He is still in jail. Meanwhile, Puigdemont three months later was looking to install himself in €4,400 a month mansion in Waterloo, Belgium. Not a bad place to engage the enemy.
So things were sort of in disarray, especially among the secessionists, who labored to decide just how to proceed. The pro-unity side, on the other hand, had set its sights on the December 21st elections, which it hoped would be a referendum in disguise. If all went well, this mess would be settled then.
As we have learned by this stage of the game; things tended not to go well for anyone.