Weekly briefing: Clashes in Catalonia

A weekly round-up of relevant IEP data providing insight into the world around us.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019: This week, large aggressive protests flood the streets of Barcelona in Spain. Thousands of pro-Catalan independence supporters rallied this week in the city’s centre and its international airport, leading to cancelled flights, angry clashes with police, and the fog of tear gas. The mass protests follow Spain’s Supreme Court ruling that sentenced a group of Catalan independence leaders to up to 13 years jail on charges of sedition, following Catalan’s independence referendum in 2017. In that referendum, 90 per cent of ballots voted for independence, but with a turnout of 43 per cent of Catalans, and led to a unilateral declaration of independence not recognised by the international community. Political polarisation splits the country with pro-independence supporters on one hand and Spanish unionists on the other. Catalan separatists accuse the Spanish government of increasing authoritarianism and the courts of denying the human right to freedom of assembly, expression and the right to a fair trial. The Spanish government says the independence referendum was an attack on the state and a serious act of rebellion.

Fast facts on Spain

Global Peace Index: 32 out of 163 countries
Global Terrorism Index: 50 out of 163 countries
Positive Peace Index: 23 out of 163 countries

Spain deteriorated three rankings on the latest Global Peace Index (GPI) to reach 32nd place, the country’s second annual slide down the rankings in a row.

The 2017 independence referendum contributed to one of the most dramatic changes in GPI scores on the 2018 index that saw Spain drop ten rankings, finding itself among the five countries showing the biggest deteriorations.

In that year, Spain dropped out of the 20 most peaceful countries, falling to 30th in the rankings, and is now ranked amongst the bottom half of the European region.

The deterioration in peacefulness in Spain has been driven by two trends: firstly, an increase in the terrorism impact indicator and secondly, a deterioration in the political environment owing to unrest over possible secession by the Catalonia region.

In 2017, the country saw a number of high profile terrorist attacks most notably the August attack on the La Rambla pedestrian mall in Barcelona, which killed 14 people and injured over a hundred more. Several other smaller attacks occurred in the following days.

The intensity of internal conflict and likelihood of violent demonstrations indicators both deteriorated on the index as the result of unrest in Catalonia. The illegal independence referendum held by the Catalan regional government, and the regional parliament’s subsequent unilateral declaration of independence, have deeply polarised opinion in the region and in Spain more broadly on the issue of regional nationalism.

The same is also true of the heavy-handed response of the national government, which used force in some instances in its attempt to stop the referendum. The government also applied Article 155 of the Spanish constitution to temporarily suspend home rule in Catalonia and call an early regional election.

Regional nationalist sentiment, on the one hand, and patriotic Spanish sentiment among Catalan unionists and Spaniards in other regions, are becoming more deeply entrenched.

The latest Global Terrorism Index shows another deterioration. Spain was alongside Angola with the largest deteriorations in score on the index, dropping 36 rankings to 49th place. The country has now shifted from a low impact of terrorism to a medium level of impact of terrorism.

In 2017, the vehicle-ramming attack in Las Ramblas, Barcelona was considered to be the third worst terrorist incident in Europe during that year.

Source: Global Peace Index