First we have the robust comments of Colonel Francisco Alaman comparing the crisis to 1936 and vowing to crush Catalan nationalists, described as "vultures". "Independence for Catalonia? Over my dead body. Spain is not Yugoslavia or Belgium. Even if the lion is sleeping, don’t provoke the lion, because he will show the ferocity proven over centuries," he said.The Spanish civil war of course began in 1936. While in the popular imagination of the world it featured a battle between the power of the Catholic Church and those demanding reform, and was a proxy war for the Germans and Soviets (both true), it also was a battle of the Spanish regions against Madrid. This third narrative is now on full display as Catalonia is calling an election, tied perhaps to a renewed independence drive.
These problems are made worse by the fact that 1) Spain is broke and needs to go to the ECB for funding 2) much of the money and bills are handled by the regions. This BBC article summarizes many of the key elements of the current situation.
Thus the Spanish central government effectively quieted the restive regions over the years by either crushing the revolt (the ETA) or by granting the regions fiscal autonomy (Catalonia). However, the buy-off was essentially done with borrowed money and now the regions need to come to terms with being part of the Spanish state and collectively work to solve their daunting problems or attempt to go out on their own.
While Spain was a critical part of the world's geography in the years' prior to WW2 but today Spain and Portugal are far on the periphery of the world's economy, with a great tourist industry, agriculture, and a few competitive companies, but mostly an uncompetitive place with an over valued currency and massive structural unemployment broken only by "infrastructure" projects such as underused airports, ports, and the like.
In other countries, the regions that have boiled and chafed under central government eventually left and found their own way. Look at the USSR, the Czechs, and many others. Spain was able to buy off their restive regions with EU largess over the years, but now the gravy train has halted dead in its tracks. It will be interesting to see how events play out in Spain, and whether the military really has the stomach for the types of events that are necessary to bring a restive region to heel. I highly doubt it.
Cross posted at Chicago Boyz