The demonstrations, some of them violent, are still going on in Catalonia a week after Spain's Supreme Court jailed nine separatist leaders for between nine and 13 years for sedition. This was the last thing Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez needed three weeks before a national election in which his Socialist Party was already losing ground to right-wing nationalists.
Catalan separatists are convinced the evil "Spanish state" is conspiring to crush their movement, but the court had little choice. Those leaders deliberately broke the law, holding an illegal independence referendum two years ago in which few but the separatists voted, and used that "victory" to proclaim independence.
Opinion polls always show most people in Catalonia don't want independence, but 92 per cent of those who voted in the referendum gave it a tick. It was cynical manipulation, exploiting the fact the anti-separatist parties in Catalonia all told their supporters not to vote in an illegal poll.
The bid for independence failed when Madrid dissolved the regional parliament and removed the separatists from office. In the subsequent provincial election in December 2017, the pro-independence parties got 47.7 per cent of the vote, so the separatists would probably have lost a real referendum by the same margin.
Yet it was the separatists who formed the next provincial government too, because they enjoy strong support in rural constituencies where almost everybody speaks Catalan. As in most countries, the system gives more weight to rural voters, so the separatists won five more seats than the pro-Spain parties and are still in.
The real problem for the separatists is that about half the people in Catalonia are Spanish-speakers who have no interest in seceding from Spain. Some are relatively recent arrivals, but most were born in Catalonia, the children and grandchildren of migrants from other parts of Spain who were attracted by the booming economy.
It's still one of the richest parts of Spain, and — again as in most developed nations — some of its tax revenues are transferred to help poorer regions. This is bitterly resented by most Catalan-speakers and partly explains the independence drive, although the most powerful factor is simply ethnic nationalism.
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But how can ethnic Catalans achieve their goal in a democratic way when half the voters by definition are not interested in it? The only way is somehow to define Spanish-speakers as not really full citizens of Catalonia, and although they never say that, it was their unspoken justification for the tweaking in the 2017 "referendum".
Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrel, who is a Catalan, recently offered a lethal analysis of this attitude: "I think the root of the problem is that the independence movement denies the 'Catalanness' of those people who aren't in favour of independence. When you ... claim that only those who think like you are 'the people', that's a totalitarian attitude." "Totalitarian" is too strong a word, but there's no doubt that this opinion is widely shared among Catalans, and that it makes Spanish-speakers keep their heads down.
On the other hand, you cannot fail to feel some sympathy for the Catalan nationalists, for as recently as 1950 the great majority of the city's residents were Catalan-speakers. You also cannot ignore the history: Catalans are not oppressed now, but the only language used in the schools and in all official communications in Catalonia under Franco's dictatorship, right down to the 1980s, was Spanish.
None of this has been forgotten by the Catalans, who at one time even feared that their language might be lost.
Thus those Catalans who respect democracy but want independence face an insoluble problem, and it's only Spain's refusal to permit a real referendum that spares them from having to face up to the conflict between these two values. But the Spanish constitution talks of the "indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation" and does not permit any region to hold a referendum on independence.
It's hardly surprising in a country that's had four civil wars in the past 200 years, but it effectively guarantees the unrest in Catalonia will continue indefinitely.
So far it has been almost entirely non-violent — and long may it remain so — but the traditional pro-independence civil society groups, the Catalan National Assembly and Omnium Cultural, are now being outflanked by Tsunami Democratic, a more combative and secretive group.