In the end, survival instinct prevailed. President Puigdemont took a step back and, in an act of political/legal mumbo-jumbo that left his worldwide audience stunned, suspended the proclamation of the Catalan Republic. But the Catalan leader did it in such a confusing way that the hundreds of thousands of people congregated around the Parliament in anticipation didn’t even protest: they simply left the streets, disappointed. A historic night had been taken from them.
Yes, a paper was signed. A political―not parliamentary―declaration of independence, devoid of the solemnity that one had come to expect from a government usually so good at political staging.
Puigdemont’s moves have left the pro-independence CUP party fuming, and it is now demanding a deadline for the suspension-of-the-not-a-declaration-of-independence. Without its support, the government’s days are numbered and the election long called for by Ciudadanos and the PSC could be just around the corner. It would be the most reasonable outcome: voting with constitutional guarantees, as the Catalans have demanded on a massive scale. With transparent ballot boxes, a real and secure census, with representatives safeguarding the process and an electoral board to ratify the results. All of which the mock 1-O referendum lacked.
But the Spanish government has decided not to wait any longer. Until now, Spain’s Prime Minister Rajoy has been under immense pressure to act with greater force: Just look at the derogatory epithets that the supposedly allied media are sending towards him. It’s well known that friendly fire is the most dangerous. On Wednesday, Rajoy gave the Catalan government eight days to drop the independence bid. If not, he’d suspend Catalonia’s political autonomy and rule the region directly.
There may not be another exit: The king has already pledged himself to the defense of the State, even though it alienates an important part of Catalan society. The Spanish national holiday, which will be held on Oct. 12, has now been renamed as the Day of Spanish pride. In 2005, then-prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero was booed during the celebration, and he was booed again throughout the following years with varying intensity. Can you imagine Rajoy’s embarrassment, along with the king’s, were they to receive a similar treatment during the full resurgence of Spanish nationalism? No way.
So the government is ready to restore legality, clearly violated by the Catalan government, just when Puigdemont shows signs of weakness. His offer of dialogue, however imposed it may be, is a sign that the Catalan government has listened to the voices from Europe that begged him to put a stop to this absurdity if he really wishes to maintain a modicum of international credit. Slovenia-style, or whatever suits them. Let us hope that Rajoy has also listened to those who ask for moderation. Being heavy-handed will not stifle the legitimate wishes of self-determination that the majority of Catalans hold.
In the meantime, Catalonia suffers. Its flagship banks and companies are leaving, and the ones that cannot escape, the smallest ones, are suffering even more. Savings and funds flee in the face of uncertainty, and the boycotting of Catalan products casts doubts over an economy that was starting to recover some traction. The hypnotic bubbles of the express independence dream will burst and give way to an atrocious hangover.