How the Catalan crisis is sending shockwaves across Europe

The battle for Catalonia just got personal. Until now the main protagonists, Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan president, and Mariano Rajoy, Spain’s prime minister, have avoided a head-on clash. All that changed at the weekend after the Madrid government decided to impose direct rule. Within minutes, insults were flying, with the opposing sides accusing each other of totalitarianism and rebellion.

Puigdemont had deliberately provoked the secession crisis, Rajoy claimed. The problem was, he lacked the stature to handle such a delicate situation. “This would probably never have happened if a different person with similar ideas had been in charge,” Rajoy said. In vowing to sack the Catalan leader, he noticeably declined to rule out charging him with sedition and locking him up.

Puigdemont and his vociferous allies were not slow to the counterpunch. Rajoy’s actions represented “the worst attack against the institutions and the people of Catalonia since the dictatorship of Franco”, he declared. This comparison with the late fascist generalísimo was deeply offensive. Carme Forcadell, the speaker of the Catalan parliament, extended the historical allusion, describing the takeover as a coup.

After Saturday night’s passionate, pro-independence demonstration in Barcelona, battle lines are now being drawn and trenches figuratively dug. The senate, which is controlled by the government, is preparing to vote on Rajoy’s proposals, probably on Friday. They could be pre-empted if the Catalan assembly formally declares independence this week and calls new elections. In any event, a drawn-out war of attrition looms.

Both sides are seeking to delegitimise the other’s actions, claim the moral high ground and rally public support. For Rajoy, backed by the constitution, the courts, the monarchy and the main opposition parties, the argument boils down to a straightforward law and order message. “All the government is trying to do, and reluctantly, is to reinstate the legal order,” Spain’s foreign minister, Alfonso Dastis, said on Sunday.

Read more at The Guardian.