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How will the attacks affect the Catalan sovereignty debate?

Worldwide media from the BBC to the Wall Street Journal take up the issue of how recent tragic events in Catalonia might influence the country’s push for independence



23 August 2017 05:42 PM


Guifré Jordan | Barcelona

All the suspects in the Catalonia attacks are either in custody or dead. The grueling intensity of the past few days is now giving way to reflection on what the country has just gone through. There are a number of perspectives to be taken into account, including the integration of migrants, security coordination and preventing such incidents in the future.

However, it is hard to ignore that the events occurred only 45 days before a referendum on independence planned by the Catalan government. The Spanish authorities are adamantly against the vote, which turns the October 1 referendum into the largest source of conflict between Barcelona and Madrid in recent history. The question now is how the August 17 attacks and their aftermath may affect the tense debate on independence. The reactions of the Catalan police, the authorities in both Catalonia and Spain, and the media in Madrid, are all likely to have an impact.

‘Outpouring of real love for Catalonia’s police,’ says BBC

Media all over the world have analyzed the issue. “Could the attack become the wild card that gives the sovereignty game back to Madrid?” wonders the BBC. “Probably not,” is the answer in the article. “Among the most extraordinary sights of the past few days was the outpouring of real love for Catalonia's police,” adds the British public broadcaster. Some in Catalonia are already claiming that the Mossos’ reaction to the events is evidence that the country is ready for independence, the BBC points out.

“The investigation into the attacks, which killed 15 people, and the manhunt for its perpetrators have given the Catalan government an occasion to demonstrate its main argument: that it can govern independently of Madrid,” reflects The Wall Street Journal. According to the business-focused newspaper, the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, “has been the dominant public figure leading the response to the attack, overshadowing the role of the central State.”

Meanwhile, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung pointed out that “little Catalonia resolved a dangerous situation within a few days, almost like an independent state.” The German newspaper also said that the Catalan police chief, Josep Lluís Trapero, “[always] had the last word” when it came to informing the public about the investigation.

  • "The little Catalonia resolved a dangerous situation within a few days, almost like an independent state"

    Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung · German newspaper

Top-selling Spanish newspapers quickly mix independence with attacks

All three aforementioned media outlets pointed out that that the referendum is looming, with the first two also referring to some Madrid-based newspaper editorials the day after the attacks, which were the first to link Thursday’s events with the independence debate. “Such an attack has to be a wake-up call that brings the Catalan political forces back to reality,” claimed El País, “which have made secessionist fantasy the sole activity on their agenda in the past few years.” “It is time to stop this democratic nonsense,” added the top-selling Spanish newspaper.

Also, the Madrid-based El Mundo on Friday said that the events “should make the Catalan authorities reflect on a reception policy in which electioneering interests linked to independence have been prioritized with respect to national security.”

Catalan newspapers have in general praised the actions of the Mossos, the police force under the control of the pro-independence government. However, one of them, El Periódico, which has taken a stance against the October 1 referendum, published an article saying that the Mossos had been warned by the American CIA of a possible attack. However, the Catalan police denied it soon after.

Controversy over fake quote by Catalan president

Political authorities on both sides, along with pro-independence campaigners, have avoided mixing the referendum debate with the attacks. However, some major Spanish media outlets on Friday morning printed that Puigdemont had spoken about the plans for independence just hours after terror struck La Rambla.

“The attacks will not change our roadmap on self-determination,” he was quoted as saying on Onda Cero radio station. What he actually said was completely different. “I think that mixing the priority of responding to the terrorist threat and attending to casualties with other things is literally miserable,” was the real quote. Meanwhile, newspapers such as El País published political cartoons validating the fake quote.

Some Spanish ministers only turned up after two or three days

Meanwhile, some media commentators pointed out that the Spanish president, Mariano Rajoy, visited Barcelona some hours after the attacks but stayed for less than a day. The Spanish home affairs minister did not speak to the press until Saturday, while the foreign affairs minister only turned up on Sunday. Other commentators also suggested that the Catalan leadership in the wake of the events in Barcelona and Cambrils had also a deliberate political backdrop.


  • Police blocks upper part of Las Ramblas after massive run over by truck (Carlos Fernandez)

  • Police blocks upper part of Las Ramblas after massive run over by truck (Carlos Fernandez)