The need for self-determination in Catalonia gained momentum after the death of the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco in 1975. The death of Franco led to constitutional reforms that aimed to grant some Spanish regions autonomy (Rodríguez-Teruel & Barrio, 2021). Granting regions autonomy was meant to create friendly coexistence between separatists and the national government. However, autonomy was the first step toward achieving complete independence for Catalonia. This quest for freedom led to Catalonia’s 1 October 2017 referendum for independence (Rodríguez-Teruel & Barrio, 2021). The election was declared unconstitutional and was marred by violence and police brutality that attracted international attention. Following the events that surrounded the referendum, Director Álvaro Longoria and Gerardo Olivares produced the film Two Catalonias, which aimed to explore the ideological differences and the political conflict between the Spanish government and the separatist nationalists of Catalonia. This paper analyzes the major events in the film and the key role that the constitution and other government institutions are playing in managing the conflict.
The Two Catalonias begin with the violent scenes that characterized the 1 October 2017 referendum elections for the independence of Catalonia. The Supreme Court of Spain had declared the process illegal, prompting the police to prevent the voting process. Throughout the film Director, Longoria and Olivares conduct a series of interviews to have both the government and the separatists (Netflix, 2018). The divisive responses that these interviews present demonstrate how polarized the issue of Catalonia’s independence is among the politicians and the electorate. Longoria and Olivares try to explain how the situation developed into a political conflict that caused significant divisions in Spain through factual explanations and historical references.
The film presents the vulnerability of the modern states to political conflicts and divisions. Since the 1990s, Europe and other parts of the world have experienced a surge in breakaway regions fighting for independence from their parent states (Andreoni & Chang, 2019). As presented in the film, the case of Catalonia demonstrates the vital role that the constitution and judicial institutions play in managing conflicts. Weak institutions have rendered many democratic nations into fragility and conflicts that have destroyed their national values (Dickovick et al., 2018). When the constitutional court declared the Catalonia referendum illegal and unconstitutional, it gave the state the power to prevent the voting process. This ruling signifies how institutions have a vital role in avoiding political conflict. The court quoted the constitution, which barred the autonomous regions from breaking away from Spain (Rodríguez-Teruel & Barrio, 2021). Therefore, any attempt to defect from the central government is considered a violation of the constitution, thus laying the ground for the necessary legal measures against those pushing for such an agenda to prevent a conflict.
The scenes in the film of police using excessive force on the civilians voting for the referendum demonstrate the abuse of power exercised by the democratic nations that may fuel a conflict rather than manage it. The police are a vital element of a state in managing conflicts. However, modern states have been using the police to confront opposing ideologies that threaten national unity (Netflix, 2018). Although there have been instances of police brutality witnessed in the film, the police have proved to be crucial in enforcing laws when effectively deployed (Rodríguez-Teruel & Barrio, 2021). In the absence of the police, lawlessness and violation of the constitution and laws would be normalized. This poses a threat to the progress of a country’s democracy.
Institutions manage conflict in states by providing the legal means of addressing a problem that can graduate into a conflict. For instance, in the case of Catalonia, Spain has a parliament with the power to amend the constitution (Rodríguez-Teruel & Barrio, 2021). It, therefore, provides Catalonia with the legal mechanism of questing for their independence without initiating violence, thus reducing the possibility of a conflict. Catalonia has a parliament that guides its subjects on such matters of freedom (Netflix, 2018). This prevents the masses from being involved in sensitive issues of the constitution that could spark violence. However, the Catalonia parliament did not explore the available procedures when deciding to hold the referendum. As a result, the Prime Minister dissolved the parliament and assumed control of the region to prevent lawlessness and seal the loopholes that could graduate and create an avenue for a wider conflict.
Institutions strengthen civil society at the local level, thus enabling effective public participation in matters that affect them and ensuring that the decisions made at the national level reflect the people’s will. For the people of Catalonia, the call for a referendum did not reflect the people’s will. The low voter turnout demonstrated that the majority of the locals did not want to participate in the election process. For instance, out of five million registered voters, only 2 million turnouts in the election process (Netflix, 2018). This demonstrates that there was poor public engagement on the issue of the referendum and that such a decision was aimed to benefit the minority while disregarding the will of the majority. This concept was reflected in the film by the broad division demonstrated by the locals interviewed.
International institutions such as regional blocs play a significant role in managing conflicts. The EU observers in Madrid concluded that the Referendum was unconstitutional and violated the Spanish law (Netflix, 2018). These sentiments are meant to denounce the lawlessness demonstrated by the separatists and discourage them from pursuing their ambitions of achieving independence through illegal means. Instead, the EU meant that there were other legal means that Catalonia could explore to achieve independence. Catalonia does not have EU membership, and it could be greatly affected economically if it became independent in a region dominated by EU members. Therefore, it was necessary to consider the international stance to prevent being isolated and sidelined in essential political and economic functions.
The case of Catalonia’s independence demonstrates the need for effective diplomatic avenues in solving a crisis that a democratic county should have. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez expressed the desire to negotiate with the Catalonia nationalists and solve the issue without violence and according to the Spanish laws stipulated in the constitution (Netflix, 2018). This is an effective mechanism for managing conflict within a state. The Catalonia nationalist movement did not explore the diplomacy path and almost caused a major conflict. Diplomacy prevents the state from abusing its powers, especially by allowing the police to use excessive force when engaging with the rioters (Andreoni & Chang, 2019). It gives room for proper constitutional interpretation and enables the creation of a solution that is just for the state and the separatists. In the absence of diplomacy, the state is likely to abuse its powers and infringe the rights of the citizens, which may fuel the war.
As the film concludes, the varying perceptions of the people interviewed indicated that the referendum was unconstitutional and illegal and that all the legal channels were not explored. It presents the critical role that the institutions play in ensuring political stability and practical conflict management by sealing the loopholes that the nationalists can exploit to steer national division (Dickovick et al., 2018). The constitution offers guidance on the vital issues affecting the state and the role of other institutions such as the parliament and the courts in addressing such issues. Therefore, effective institutions must be flexible to handle the diverse issues that tend to arise that can cause division and conflict in the state (Andreoni & Chang, 2019). Additionally, the film has portrayed how institutions are essential in uniting a state. They act as a national symbol that represents the interest of all the citizens regardless of their political ideology. For instance, the Constitutional Court interpreted the law based on the public’s interest without being biased.
In conclusion, modern states face the constant threat of conflict that tend to cause division and create breakaway states. States with strong and effective institutions manage such conflicts more efficiently than those with fragile institutions. Functional institutions must be cohesive and coordinative in their roles. For instance, the functions of the judiciary and the legislature must conform to the principles of the constitution. There must be an enforcement agency to ensure the compliance of the decisions made by other institutions. The case of Catalonia demonstrates how this cohesion is necessary to seal avenues that can be negatively exploited to divide a country. However, institutions can only manage conflict if they provide diplomatic ways of addressing arising issues. Diplomacy and negotiation have proved to minimize public incitement that can cause uncontrolled conflict. Additionally, diplomacy limits the possibility of power abuse by the state.
Andreoni, A., & Chang, H. J. (2019). The political economy of industrial policy: Structural interdependencies, policy alignment and conflict management. Structural change and economic dynamics, 48, 136-150.
Dickovick, J., Eastwood, J., & MacDonald, D. (2018). Comparative politics (3rd ed., pp. 297-337). Oxford University Press Academic US.
Netflix. (2018). Two Catalonias [Video]. Web.
Rodríguez-Teruel, J., & Barrio, A. (2021). The asymmetrical effect of polarization on support for independence: The case of Catalonia. Politics and Governance, 9(4), 412-425.