A nation, a Spanish region, an aspiring independent state: however you define it, Catalonia has become a byword in Spain for controversy and political conflict. Now, the deadlock between Catalonia's devolved government, which wants independence, and Spain's central government, which has always ruled out a vote on the issue, has reached a critical moment. Tweetie Pie, the yellow Warner Bros cartoon bird known here as Piolín, adorns a cruise ship parked in Barcelona port. There are no tourists on board the huge floating hotel. A Spanish government minister refused to tell me exactly how many national Spanish police were on board.
Grassroots groups driving Catalonia's independence movement say they have started distributing one million ballots to be used in a referendum on secession that the Spanish government has vowed to stop. Spanish police have confiscated millions of ballots in recent days as part of a crackdown to stop the Oct. 1 vote, which has been suspended by Spain's Constitutional Court. Many are carrying pro-independence flags and signs calling for the Oct. 1 independence vote that the Spanish government calls illegal and has pledged to stop. Spain's Constitutional Court has suspended the local law calling for the referendum and police have cracked down on preparations for the vote.
Spain's King Felipe VI on Tuesday accused authorities in the northeast region of Catalonia of disloyalty to the state in what he called their unacceptable push for independence. "Certain authorities in Catalonia have repeatedly, consciously and deliberately not complied with the constitution," the king said in a rare televised speech to the nation. "They have systematically violated legally and legitimately approved rules, showing an inadmissible disloyalty toward the powers of the state. "Their irresponsible behavior might even put the economic and social stability of Catalonia and all of Spain at risk," he said in the six-minute speech. The king did not specify what penalties leaders in Catalonia might face for seeking independence from Spain.
Will they or won't they? The Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has told the BBC the region will declare independence from Spain in a matter of days, following a controversial, illegal independence poll which Spanish police tried to stop. If they did, independence may well be blocked anyway. But supposing the region did secede, would Catalonia be able to stand on its own two feet? To the casual observer, Catalonia looks like it has already got many of the trappings of a state.