It isn’t just about what happens on Sunday; it’s about the ensuing days and weeks.
The next 72 hours could be crucial not only for Catalonia, but also for the rest of Spain and Europe. For now, the cards are overwhelmingly stacked in Madrid’s favor. The central government enjoys the outward support of all European institutions, key Western partners and has the full power of the law on its side as well as the full arsenal of state repression at its disposal.
After confiscating millions of ballot slips and thousands of ballot boxes, and launching what Wikileaks’ Julian Assange has termed the “world’s first Internet War” against Catalonia, freezing telecommunications links, occupying telecoms buildings and censoring hundreds of websites, the Rajoy administration has made it logistically difficult, if not impossible, for the region to hold a credible referendum.
Spain’s constitutional court even went so far as to ask Google to shut down the app that allows Catalans to see where they have to vote on Sunday. Even the two main civil associations behind Catalonia’s push for independence have begun to tamp down expectations, conceding that the police operations have made it “very difficult” to hold a meaningful vote.
Now, all the government in Madrid has to do is sit back, watch and enjoy as the referendum’s organizers struggle to achieve a turnout even close to that of the purely symbolic consultation it held on November 9, 2014. Then, on Monday or Tuesday, Rajoy, with a small dose of humility, can launch political negotiations with Catalonia’s representatives from a position of strength.
But he probably won’t…