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Ahead of planned Catalan poll, main opposition Socialist Party sides with government

PSOE leader Pedro Sánchez shows support for PP’s attempts to deal with secessionist challenge

Socialist chief Pedro Sánchez in Catalonia on Sunday.
Socialist chief Pedro Sánchez in Catalonia on Sunday. EFE

Spain’s leftist parties are showing mixed reactions to the independence referendum that the Catalan government is planning to hold on October 1 despite the fact that Spanish courts have ruled it illegal.

Faced with what is being described as one of the Spanish government’s biggest challenges since the transition to democracy in the late 1970s, the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) has temporarily put aside its traditionally confrontational attitude toward the Popular Party (PP) and closed ranks around “the rule of law.”

Other leftist parties have taken a very different stand on the matter

PSOE leader Pedro Sánchez was in Barcelona on Sunday for a rally in which he showed support for the central government and its attempts to curb Catalan separatists’ descent into unlawfulness.

“We stand on the side of the rule of law and of its leader, in order to respond [to the secessionist challenge] in a proportional, law-abiding manner,” said Sánchez, alluding to the legal measures adopted by the Mariano Rajoy administration to stop the referendum from taking place.

Speaking to a crowd of around 20,000 Socialist supporters, Sánchez insisted that the conflict can only be overcome through dialogue, and said that he will support the PP if it chooses to go down that road, either before or after October 1.

He also said that the solution must include constitutional reform and greater powers of self-rule for Catalonia.

In recent years, the Socialist leader has repeatedly mentioned his idea for a new “federated” state structure that would better reflect the reality of Spain’s various identities, including greater recognition for the Basques, the Catalans and the Galicians. But pressed for details, Sánchez has so far declined to explain how this new federated Spain would work.

But other leftist parties have taken a very different stand on the matter. Also on Sunday, around 300 people showed up in downtown Madrid to express “solidarity” with Catalan separatists. Speakers at Teatro del Barrio, in the neighborhood of Lavapiés, included members of Podemos, and also of the Catalan secessionist parties Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and CUP, a tiny anti-capitalist group whose support is critical to the governing Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes) coalition in Catalonia.

What’s at stake now is not the right to decide, what’s at stake is democracy

ERC deputy in Congress Joan Tardá

Also present at the event were representatives for the pro-independence civic associations Òmnium Cultural and Assemblea Nacional Catalana (ANC), which have played a leading role in drumming up popular support for the referendum in Catalonia.

Speakers framed the event as a defense of civil liberties, and used constant references to the Franco dictatorship to describe the current government’s actions as “neo-Francoism” and “an authoritarian drift of the 1978 regime.”

“The Catalan question is not a national question and never was, it is a question of democracy,” said Isabel Serra, the Podemos spokesperson in the Madrid regional parliament. “This is not a territorial crisis, it is a crisis of democracy.”

Joan Tardá, who holds a seat in Spanish Congress for the pro-independence Catalan party ERC, said that “what’s at stake now is not the right to decide, what’s at stake is democracy.”

Tardá also criticized the PSOE for “adopting the PP’s terminology.”

Nuria Gibert of CUP, a small far-left group made up of Catalan anti-capitalists and ecofeminists, accused the PSOE of being “a necessary collaborator to the 1978 bunker” and added that there is going to be “an imminent break with the Spanish state.”

English version by Susana Urra.