Barcelona, Spain – Spain’s plans to use Article 155 of its Constitution to dissolve Catalonia’s parliament and directly administer the northeastern region could have a rippling effect on the country’s independence movements, analysts and historians say.
The independence push following a controversial referendum on October 1, which has been met with resistance and violence from Madrid, is driven by fears Catalonia’s distinct culture and language are under threat. Strong economic performance without equal re-investment from Madrid is also fuelling the secessionist spirit.
But it’s not the only region with distinct culture and language. There are four ethnolinguistic groups in Spain, including the main Spanish identity, each with varying degrees of separatist sentiment.
Here is a guide to Spain’s minority regions and the political implications of Article 155.
The region most similar to Catalonia, in terms of secessionist feelings and economic performance, is the Basque Country. The centre-right Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) oversees the ruling coalition of the region.
“The PNV government is looking with great interest at what’s going on in Catalonia,” Sebastian Balfour, Emeritus Professor of Contemporary Spanish Studies at the London School of Economics, told Al Jazeera.
PNV holds five of 350 seats in the Spanish Congress and six of 266 seats in the Senate, but each seat counts. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s People’s Party (PP) is leading a minority government in parliament and periodically needs support from the PNV.
Basque President Inigo Urkullu said that Article 155 is “extreme and disproportionate. It blows up bridges. The Generalitat [Catalan regional government] has our support to find a constructive future.”
Respect for minority rights is central to the Basque people. Their language, Euskara, is unrelated to any other and Basque people are genetically distinct from all other Europeans. They are one of the oldest European indigenous groups.
Basque separatists led by the far-left Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), an armed group whose name translates to “Basque Homeland and Liberty”, waged a conflict with the Spanish state starting in 1959 that resulted in the death of more than 1,000 people and the wounding of more than 6,000 more.
ETA officially disarmed on April 8, though the group had declined in membership for years.
While ETA was long the premier force for change in the relationship between The Basque and Madrid, PNV now has that chance. If they withdraw support for Rajoy’s government, it “will affect the forthcoming 2018 budget”, Balfour said.
Without a budget, Rajoy’s chances for a full term are slim, as Spain hopes to continue its climb out of secession.
The Catalan countries
Article 155 could impact Spanish politics beyond the 2018 budget. Catalonia is only a part, albeit the largest part, of Els Paisos Catalans, or the Catalan countries.
The language and culture of Catalonia comes from a long history within the Crown of Aragon, a kingdom which existed from the 12th to 18th centuries and controlled parts of Spain, Andorra, Italy, France and Greece.
Spain’s present-day Catalan countries include Valencia, Catalonia’s southern neighbour and the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea.
Valencia is the birthplace of one of Spain’s most well-known dishes, the rice-based paella. Santiago Calatrava, the world-famous architect who designed the new World Trade Center hub in New York, as well as many other works.
“These territories have regionalist parties that demand, like Catalonia years ago, better autonomy and respect for cultural diversity,” Jordi Graupera, a Catalan author and researcher at Princeton University, told Al Jazeera.
The president of Valencia’s regional government, Ximo Puig of the centre-left regional branch of the Spanish Socialist Party, has yet to comment on the use of Article 155.
The Balearic Islands are home to the popular tourist destination of Majorca and birthplace of tennis star Rafael Nadal.
Francina Armengol, president of the Balearic Islands also from her regional Socialist Party, has said that she wants Catalonia to remain part of Spain but is against the application of Article 155.
While there are grassroots independence movements in these regions, they aren’t as strong as those of Catalonia.
Spain’s strong-arm treatment of Catalonia “will show Valencians and Majorcans [the name for resident of the Balearic Islands] that they should leave as well, and in 10 or 20 years a serious separatist movement will appear there”, Graupera predicted.
Galicia is another region with a unique identity, language and separatist strain is found on Spain’s northwestern Atlantic coast.
The Kingdom of Galicia existed from the fifth century, at times encompassing much of northwest present-day Spain and northern Portugal, until the 15thcentury, when it joined Spain. Galician and Portuguese are in the same language grouping and were mutually ineligible until that time.
|People wave Catalan flags during recent a demonstration organised by Catalan pro-independence movements [File: Rafael Marchante/Reuters]|
Given this shared history, there is a group in Galicia that believes their land should reunite with Portugal. Others argue it should be independent, citing the Celtic history of Galicia.
But Galicia remains a rural, largely agrarian region with much less industrialisation than the modern Basque Country and Catalonia, with a lower economic output.
So, in spite of the same cultural “starting conditions” as these regions, economic underdevelopment and has slowed the spread of Galician nationalism, Tiago Peres Goncalves, a Galician historian and author, told Al Jazeera.
The region consistently votes for Spanish nationalist parties. The authoritarian Spanish leader Francisco Franco was from Galicia as is Rajoy, the current premier.
There was a period in the 1990s when the Galician National Block, a left-wing secessionist party, was gaining traction. Elections in 1997 saw the party win 25 percent of the vote and 18 delegates in the regional parliament, Peres explained. That slowed as Spanish nationalism gained strength in the early 2000s.
That doesn’t mean the nationalist movement is dead. “In fact, on the eve of the October 1 referendum in Catalonia, thousands of people took to the streets in various Galician cities in solidarity and support of the Catalan people,” Peres said.
But Spanish media, which has been accused of bias in its reporting on Catalan independence, worries Galicians, Peres commented. They believe Catalonia’s exit would “result in a loss of part of their purchasing power and a decrease in their wages,” the historian continued.
The best outcome, in Peres view, would be a negotiated settlement between Madrid and Catalonia.
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has repeatedly offered dialogue. Rajoy said it wasn’t an offer, but an imposition.
While Rajoy’s play for a strong, centralised Spain through Article 155’s implementation might expand nationalist movements in other parts of Spain, the consequences “will be very negative for Galician independence movements”, Peres concluded.