Madrid—Halfway between Barcelona and Madrid by high-speed train, the city of Zaragoza proved for one day last month how simple a solution to the crisis in Catalonia should really be.
In a last-gasp effort to prevent further division and possible clashes between voters and police in Catalonia, the city, capital of the autonomous community of Aragon, hosted a multiparty conference a week before Catalonia’s illegal referendum on independence. Neither of the traditional parties—Mariano Rajoy’s governing conservative People’s Party (PP) and the Socialists (PSOE)—was present. Nor was the separatist group that now heads the Catalan government and its bid for independence from Spain. Of the large parliamentary groups, only the new-left alternative Podemos, the driving force behind the conference, attended.
Nevertheless, the participants, a wide range of progressive regional political alliances and coalitions, represent a quiet, democratic, and plurinational Spain, concealed by the blazing red-and-yellow Spanish flag that has been draped from thousands of balconies since the improvised October 1 plebiscite and the violent scenes that accompanied it. The Zaragoza Declaration, barely covered in the media, might now prove the only alternative to permanent strife, as the Catalan crisis deepens.
The parties in attendance included Unidos Podemos, the alliance of the old-left Izquierda Unida (United Left) and Podemos that ran with mixed results in most of Spain in the last general elections, and Catalunya en Comú, their counterpart in Catalonia. The Basque nationalists were there, along with the pro-separatist Republican Left of Catalonia (Esquerra Republicana). Coalició Compromís, the left coalition that governs the Valencia region, attended, as did two Galician nationalist groups and the nationalist Geroa Bai, from the Pyrenean region of Navarre.
Also present were the Podemos-supported platforms that hold power in most of Spain’s large cities, including Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, A Coruña, Palma, and Cádiz. The charismatic women mayors of Madrid and Barcelona, respectively Manuela Carmena and Ada Colau, were both represented, as of course was Zaragoza Mayor Pedro Santisteve, an independent who won the city elections in 2015 with the support of Podemos in a municipality that is traditionally deeply conservative.
These new regional coalitions nurtured by the Podemos leadership over the past two years not only govern Spain’s biggest cities but have sent more than 90 of 350 deputies to the Spanish Parliament, representing 6.5 million votes—nearly a fifth of the Spanish electorate. They are what Enric Juliana, political commentator of the Barcelona daily La Vanguardia, calls “the Others”—those who are sympathetic to a referendum in Catalonia “without going into any further details about self-determination.” While less than half of Catalan citizens want independence, 84 percent now support a referendum.