Last week, images of the Spanish police brutally cracking down on voters in Catalonia’s illegal referendum on secession popped up on computer screens around the world, bringing with them a wave of international attention and unprecedented internal anxiety. 42.34% of eligible voters cast their vote, the majority of whom (90%) supported secession from Spain. Aside from the failed coup d’état in 1981, this represents Spain’s most profound constitutional crisis since democracy was restored in 1978, and remains a hot debate in Catalonia.
After finishing my LL.M. at Harvard Law School a few months ago, I came back to Spain: first to Madrid, and then—coinciding with the referendum for the independence of Catalonia—to Barcelona. However, as much as I was excited to be back home, viewing such extreme polarization first-hand worried me. Although Spanish political culture tends to be confrontational, the current level of social tension has seemed, at least to me, unparalleled.