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Jordi Turull (centre), during a break in his hearing at the Supreme Court, Madrid, where he and other Catalan leaders face charges of sedition (©Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)

The bid to create an independent Catalonia, characterised by elements of farce as well as by high drama, has failed, just as all similar attempts have failed in the past. But in the Catalan village of St Feliu de Codines (population 5,000), where I live for part of each year, few seem to grasp this. A poster in the Plaza Mayor (main square) reads “Carles Puigdemont is our President.” In a road off the plaza someone has scrawled “Defend the Republic.” Pinned on every tree visible from the plaza are yellow ribbons indicating sympathy for the deposed Catalan ministers, several of whom remain in jail, and everywhere there are demands for the release of what are described as political prisoners.

Our neighbours are agreeable people with whom my wife and I enjoy good relations. It seems somehow churlish to point out to them that Puigdemont, presently on bail in Germany awaiting an extradition hearing following self-imposed exile in Brussels, ceased to be President of Catalonia in October when the Spanish government took direct control of the province under article 155 of the Spanish constitution. Or that it is not possible to defend the “republic”, since Catalonia remains part of a constitutional monarchy and there is consequently no republic to defend. Or that while the former Catalan ministers may have been inspired by the age-old dream of independence, they are not in trouble because of their political beliefs, but because they are accused of having broken the law by holding a referendum deemed to be illegal by the Madrid government and the Spanish courts, and by following this with a unilateral declaration of independence.

The posters are not even up to date: Puigdemont, who fled to Brussels to avoid arrest on charges of rebellion, sedition and the misuse of public funds, was re-elected as an MP in the Catalan regional election in December, but forced to drop his plan to run Catalonia via a video link when it became clear that both Catalan and Spanish law required that he should be physically present in the Catalan parliament in order to be invested as president. Despite bitter infighting the separatists then backed instead Jordi Sànchez, a long-time secessionist, but the far-left CUP, the smallest of the three separatist parties seeking to build a coalition government, found him lacking in secessionist zeal and changed its mind. It seemed that Sànchez had offered an assurance that he would not in future act outside Spanish law and this apparent sign of compromise was sufficient for the CUP to condemn what it described as “subservience to Madrid”.

But there was a more practical reason for thinking that he was not destined for high office: he was in jail and expected to face a charge of rebellion and sedition. Only those engaging in wish-fulfilment could suppose that a Spanish court would grant him a day’s freedom to be sworn in before returning to his prison cell to run Catalonia from behind bars.

 But it was lack of separatist zeal rather than practicalities that did for him. The secessionists finally agreed that the best man for the job would be Jordi Turull, Puigdemont’s former chief of staff, only for the CUP to decide that Turull’s breast did not burn with sufficient secessionist fervour either, and that it would withdraw its support. Unless agreement is reached on a new leader capable of forming a majority in the Catalan parliament, direct rule will continue until fresh elections are held. 
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