As if the issue of Catalonian secession wasn’t fraught enough, some of its most committed advocates are now arguing that the terrorist attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils last week demonstrate the region’s readiness for independence. Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy, for his part, has suggested that the vehicle attacks that left 15 dead require regional differences to be cast aside in the battle against jihadism. The debate about Catalonian independence has always been a heated, complex one in Spain. Now that the tragic events of last week are being introduced into the discussion, it will become even more so.
Some of the more fervent supporters of Catalonian secession have been particularly active on social media since the attacks last week, claiming that the rapid response of the Mossos d’Esquadra (Catalonian police), the region’s president Carles Puigdemont and Barcelona’s mayor Ada Colau show that Catalonia is perfectly capable of acting by itself, without support from Madrid. Others have gone so far as to state that such a tragedy would not have happened if the region had been independent.
Such a line of argument was adopted by the Catalan writer Bernat Dedeu in a polemic that has already become a minor classic among more passionate secessionists. Entitled “7 Hours of Independence” and published in El Nacional on Saturday, it furiously denounced Rajoy and King Felipe VI of Spain for taking seven hours to arrive in Catalonia after the attacks (hence the piece’s title). It also praised Puigdemont and Colau for responding immediately: they behaved “like two authentic leaders of the nation”, Dedeu wrote. He also criticised the Spanish government for not allowing Catalan police access to European security databases, suggesting that had they had such access the suspects might have been prevented from carrying out their attack.
For the many opponents of Catalonian independence, Dedeu’s piece demonstrates the problem with hardline advocates of secession: their readiness in seizing upon anything to demonstrate the supposed superiority of Catalonia over the rest of Spain. Not to be outdone by the secessionists, those who support the country’s unity are already putting forward their interpretation of the attacks with equal force. Spanish newspaper El Pais said in an editorial that last week’s events should provide the secessionists in Catalonia with a reality check and dissuade them from pursuing independence. It has also been pointed out that, rapid as the Mossos’ response to the attacks undeniably was, Barcelona authorities failed to act on requests to install barriers on Las Ramblas after the vehicle attack in Berlin last December.
Reflecting the two sides of this debate were the speeches made by Puigdemont and Rajoy in the aftermath of the attacks last week. Rajoy spoke of his nation’s collective mourning without singling out Catalonia at all: his bitter enemy, on the other hand, made no mention of Spain and several times called his region a “nation”. We should expect much more hostile sparring than this in the run-up to the controversial independence referendum Puigdemont has called for October 1, which Rajoy says he will do everything he can to prevent. The awkward truce which the two leaders had to adopt during Spain’s three days of official mourning is over and the issue of Catalonian independence has just attained a whole new level of volatility.