If Spain hoped that Catalonia would willingly and cheerfully hand over control over the separatist region to Madrid after Rajoy announced on Saturday that the Spanish government will fire Catalan leaders and force new elections in 6 months, he may be disappointed. According to Bloomberg, Catalan separatists are “mobilizing a human shield” to block efforts by Spanish authorities to take control of the breakaway region as both sides prepare to escalate the political conflict beyond what may soon be a point of no return.
The dramatic Catalan action is in response to Rajoy’s shocing announcement on Saturday, when he disclosed plans to clear out the entire separatist administration in Barcelona and take control of key institutions including public media and the regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra. Spain’s chief prosecutor said that if Puigdemont declares independence he would face as much as 30 years in jail and signaled that he could be arrested immediately.
“We are calling for a peaceful and democratic defense of the institutions,” Lluis Corominas, the leader of the main separatist group in the Catalan Parliament, said at a press conference in Barcelona.
According to two sources quoted by Bloomberg, groups of Catalan separatists will concentrate their activists around the regional government’s headquarters in Barcelona’s Gothic quarter and the nearby parliament building. “They expect Spanish police to use force to try to shut down the administration and will put their bodies on the line” the sources added.
Following weeks of escalating tensions between Madrid and Barcelona, this is shaping up as a critical week for political brinkmanship:
the Catalan leadership was left to plot its next move following Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s declaration of unprecedented measures to reassert his authority. The rebels in Barcelona are running out of options while Madrid attempts to bring an end to the country’s most dramatic political crisis for four decades.
The showdown may come at the end of the week. Regional President Carles Puigdemont, who accused Rajoy of a “coup d’etat,” is set to be ousted by the Spanish government and his allies are signaling he could declare independence. The legislature in Barcelona, which is controlled by separatist parties, will convene on Thursday and Friday just as Rajoy is expected to win approval from the Senate for his crackdown.
Separately, Reuters reported that Catalonia said on Monday it was confident all officials including police would defy attempts by Madrid to enforce direct rule on the region: the leaders of the secessionist campaign said a disputed referendum on Oct. 1 gave them the mandate to claim independence from the rest of Spain.
“It’s not that we will refuse (orders). It is not a personal decision. It is a seven million-person decision,” Catalonia’s foreign affairs chief Raul Romeva told BBC radio.
Romeva was asked whether he believed all institutions, including the police, would follow orders from Catalan institutions rather than from the Spanish government. “And from that perspective, I have no doubt that all civil servants in Catalonia will keep following the instructions provided by the elected and legitimate institutions that we have right now in place (in Catalonia),” he responded.
Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister said Puigdemont would be out of a job once direct rule was enforced and Madrid would install its own representative. The Spanish government has said it would call a regional election within six months. “They are president of the regional government and senior figures in that government because of the constitution,” said Soraya Saenz de Santamaria during a radio interview. “They are not entrusted with that role by any divine authority,” she also said.
Civil disobedience was also backed by far-left party CUP, a key support for Catalonia’s pro-independence minority government in the regional parliament, which called Madrid’s actions an aggression against all Catalans.
“An aggression which will be met with massive civil disobedience,” the CUP said in a statement.
Several hundred Catalan municipalities said they were against direct rule from Madrid and asked the Catalan parliament to vote on a motion rejecting it.
Meanwhile, Catalan president Carles Puigdemont called the Catalan parliament to meet this week to agree on a response to Madrid, something many observers said could pave the way for a formal declaration of independence. The assembly will meet on Thursday to agree a response to direct rule.
Several influential Catalan newspapers called on Puidgemont on Sunday to resolve the crisis by calling a snap election before direct rule becomes effective. However, Catalan government spokesman Jordi Turull said this was not an option. It is not clear whether a vote in the region would help resolve the crisis.
As Reuters adds, an opinion poll published by the El Periodico newspaper on Sunday showed a snap election would probably have results similar to the last ballot, in 2015, when a coalition of pro-independence parties formed a minority government.