Commentary. Those who failed to convince even a majority of Catalans to vote should be preparing for political bankruptcy rather than independence.

In Spain, the failure of two paper tigers

Surprisingly, the results from referendum promoters show that about 40 percent of Catalan citizens voted. This means that 60 percent stayed at home, did not accept Carles Puigdemont’s secessionist effort and did not buy into an election campaign that smelled of propaganda.

Moreover, among those who did vote, a few may have gone to the polls after witnessing Madrid’s violent response. Others may have voted no.

So the result is clear: Politicians who failed to convince even a majority of Catalans to vote should be preparing for political bankruptcy rather than independence.

Of course the repression did not encourage participation. Images of police forces at the polling stations of a European nation and violence against helpless people certainly do not favor Rajoy.

He’s chiefly responsible for bringing the country to the breaking point, but it would be sacrosanct for him to resign. After lighting the fuse and blowing on the tinders, extinguishing the fire will be a complicated endeavor.

In the aftermath, Europe has intervened, hoping for dialogue. But the interlocutors are Puigdemont and Rajoy, two paper tigers who’ve grown nasty over the long crisis, with cuts to welfare and to wealthy Catalonia. Now the Catalan leadership wishes to separate not only from Madrid but also from the Spaniards — the workers and subordinate classes — most affected by the crisis.

From this point of view the Lombard-Veneto autonomy referendum, a non-binding poll set for later this month in the northern Italian region, is very similar to Puigdemont’s vote. It’s similar in that the demand for greater autonomy grows alongside regional GDP.

“The Catalan GDP has grown three times the deficit,” said Oriol Junqueras, leader of a leftist party that proudly demands secession. “There are not many other economies that can show similar results.” On the contrary, a left that fights for equality must interrogate the contradiction of allying with separatists and must wonder why the two largest unions have not joined the ‘general strike.’

What really seems to be happening is that, in a battle for power, two right-wing leaders hid behind national unity and secession — flags used to hide their nationalist rhetoric and shaky majorities, in Madrid as well as in Barcelona.

If the Spanish constitution isn’t working, if that pact has to be changed, then constitutional democracy shows us how to do it. Despite the diversity ofhistorical and institutional contexts, the Italian experience offers a lesson.

In Italy, there were those who wanted to change the constitution and those who defended it. After a tiring effort and many long months, we reached a referendum that involved the whole country. We did it, and we triumphed.

That’s not a banal lesson.

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