The simmering situation in Catalonia has thus far avoided turning into a bloody confrontation in the streets, with the now technically unemployed Catalan leader, Carles Puigdemont , still calling for “peaceful resistance” to Madrid. There are obvious questions about just how far peaceful resistance will take you, however, particularly when Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy seems to be holding all the cards in Madrid.
So what’s Puigdemont going to do? He can keep making speeches and trying to rally his supporters in Catalonia, but with new elections being scheduled he may find himself simply replaced on the political battlefield. There’s also serious talk in Madrid of trials which could conceivably see him sent off for a lengthy stretch in prison if they decide that the independence referendum was actually an act of rebellion or sedition.
One possibility is that he could flee the country. Just the other day I was noting that Catalonia seems to have no friends anywhere else in the world when it comes to questions of independence. As it turns out, that might not be entirely accurate. There’s one nation which may not be backing Catalonia’s bid to break away from Spain, but they might be willing to offer Puigdemont political asylum. And that nation is Belgium. (Reuters)
Granting Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont political asylum in Belgium would be “not unrealistic” if he asks for it, the Belgian migration minister said, underlining his country’s position as a contrarian voice in the Spanish standoff.
The Madrid government sacked the Catalan leader and dismissed the region’s parliament on Friday, hours after it declared itself an independent nation.
Spain’s constitutional court has also started a review of Catalonia’s independence vote for prosecutors to decide if it constituted rebellion.
While there was no indication Puigdemont was hoping to come to Belgium, the country is one of few members of the European Union where EU citizens can ask for political asylum.
True, Puigdemont hasn’t mentioned a desire for asylum at this point, but it’s surely under consideration. Rajoy made it clear from the beginning that he had no intention of treating threats of secession as some sort of lengthy negotiation. That would have been a political disaster for him. Instead, he has treated the independence referendum and everything downstream of it as nothing short of a criminal conspiracy, employing the harshest measures constitutionally available to him short of all-out martial law.
If Puigdemont sees himself as the future leader of the rebellion for Catalonian independence he has some choices to make. The one he’s carefully (and wisely) avoiding is waving a bloody flag and attempting to get his supporters out in the streets for an armed revolt. But if he sticks around he may find himself in court and then, potentially, in prison. That’s not an unknown route for leaders of upstart movements to take. In prison, Puigdemont could assume the role of a martyr, write books and send out press statements encouraging his followers to keep up the peaceful resistance and demands for independence.
But that would require a huge sacrifice. The seemingly less noble route would be for him to flee to Belgium (assuming he can make it out of the country without federal officials stopping him) and plead for asylum there. Once outside of Spain he could similarly lead the campaign for Catalonian independence while fighting an extradition battle in the courts. It’s not quite as heroic sounding, but it avoids the unpleasantness of a jail cell and provides him with more mobility and press access.
At this point, it seems to be mostly in Puigdemont’s hands. Will he choose to leave? And if so, will he be able to make good his escape without being taken into custody? The drama continues to unfold.