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At the time of writing, charges have been brought against 30 Catalan politicians and officials in connection with the illegal referendum and subsequent declaration of independence. If, as seems likely, Puigdemont is finally extradited to face trial, and is promptly remanded in jail, the huge demonstrations that have characterised Spain’s biggest political crisis since the botched military coup of 1981 are likely to be repeated, perhaps on an ever-bigger scale. Those opposed to Catalonia’s secession, both within the autonomous region and elsewhere in Spain, are likely to stage counter-demonstrations; if the past is any guide it would be optimistic to suppose that this now-established pattern of protest and counter-protest will pass off peacefully.

Perhaps the best that can be hoped for is that when fresh elections come a coalition of pro-unionist parties led by Ciudadanos (Citizens Party), which won the greatest number of seats in the December elections, will provide the basis of stable government, while the Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy, clumsy, stubborn and inept in dealing with the crisis since its beginnings, finds a way to defuse a potentially explosive situation by proposing constitutional changes that would enable discussion to take place over greater powers for all of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions. Ciudadanos spokesmen have described the bid for Catalan independence as an insane act of self-harm. However, Rajoy, who is not noted for his readiness to put national interest before party self-interest, is unlikely to do anything that would assist Ciudadanos, whose national poll ratings have shot ahead of his own Partido Popular (Popular Party). Unlike older parties — it was formed in Catalonia in 2005 — Ciudadanos enjoys the advantage of being untainted by allegations of corruption.

Catalans are generally regarded by other Spaniards as hard-working, thrifty, calculating, level-headed and down-to-earth, if somewhat prone to moan about their lot and quick to sense a grievance. How did they get into this mess? How to explain the periodic bursts of intemperance and extremism which have led the region’s political leaders to promise the impossible, to deny obvious aspects of reality, to delight in conspiracy theory and to embark on courses of conduct which were bound to result in failure — except by reference to a series of myths which are far removed from reality? These include the claim that Catalonia was once an independent country and could therefore become so again: it wasn’t.

That Catalonia, the richest of Spain’s autonomous regions, is propping up the rest of Spain economically: it isn’t. That Catalonia is oppressed by the national government in Madrid led by Rajoy, who is just like Franco: it isn’t and he isn’t. That the Madrid government is more corrupt than the Catalan Generalitat. That, to quote a slogan used in the October referendum, Catalonia is not Spain; well, here the facts of economics and geography as well as those of history would also seem to strongly suggest otherwise. To these a new myth has been added, namely that the Madrid government’s decision to assume direct control of the region following Catalonia’s unilateral declaration of independence represented a violent assault on democracy: it doesn’t.

All societies need myths to sustain them, to affirm values and to inspire civic virtue; few correspond very exactly to the historic record, but when they become inflated to the point where they clash with obvious economic and political realities, trouble is bound to ensue. This is largely what has happened in Catalonia, where the secessionists running the Generalitat have used the education system and publicly-supported media to rewrite history and to fan the already strong sense of Catalan victimhood as well as taking the promotion of the Catalan language to extreme lengths (the imposition of fines on restaurants using Castilian rather than Catalan in menus is merely one example).
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