Do you remember the break up of Yugoslavia? At first people said it could never happen.
Yugoslavia had been a federation since the First World War, it had Europe’s biggest standing army, it had been the ballast between East and West and yet it disintegrated in bloodshed.
Also, initially the independence movements in the various republics were minority affairs. Even in Croatia, which has always been the Republic considered most likely to leave the Yugoslav Federation, the all out-nationalists never made up more than 50% of the popular vote.
That was until the Yugoslav Army- the Serb Army as it was seen by Croats – became heavy handed. The Croats moved to arm and defend themselves and within weeks a situation that was regarded as manageable degenerated into a civil war. It became a civil war largely because Serbia wanted to keep Croatia and its tourist-driven hard currency within Yugoslavia.
Interestingly, further north in Slovenia the separatist movement was more or less left alone by Serbia/Yugoslavia because it was seen as culturally very different, more central European than Balkan and so ultimately Belgrade allowed the Slovenes to go their own way. Yes, there were skirmishes but nothing major. Croatia in contrast, followed later by Bosnia, were a different story.
Now look at Catalonia.
Up to now the independence movement appears to have about 50% support. However, the police violence on Sunday combined with intervention last night by the Spanish King changes that. The Catalans now feel that they are being bullied and are threatened by Spain. They have some clever nationalist politicians and there is a real chance that they are moving swiftly towards independence.
Is Catalan leaving Spain more likely to be a situation like Slovenia – a relatively amicable divorce with a bit of bickering – but ultimately peaceful; or like Croatia, ending in a bloodbath?
For the moment, the Slovenian option is the most likely path but unfortunately when these things unravel, they unravel quickly and with the Spaniards looking north to the Basques with concern that the Basques will be next to leave Spain, Madrid could easily overreact
with devastating consequences.