November 10, 2023 - 6:00pm

Over the last two days, thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in Madrid to protest the amnesty deal struck between Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont in exchange for forming a new government. 

The most substantial part of the agreement between the Socialists and Junts, Puigdemont’s party, has nothing to do with expanded devolution for Catalonia. Rather, it contains personal concessions to ease Puigdemont’s legal problems, which would allow the separatist leader to put an end to his seven year-long exile in Brussels after Catalonia’s non-sanctioned independence referendum in 2017.

Although rallies against the formation of new governments aren’t new in Spain, the rhetoric of the Spanish nationalist protesters has been unusually confrontational. Yesterday, for example, there were riots and clashes with the police as protesters marched towards Sánchez’s Socialist headquarters. Most notably, the founder of the hard-Right Vox party, Alejo Vidal-Quadras, was shot in the face by two professional hitmen — most likely due to his involvement with the Iranian opposition. While this gruesome event seems unrelated to the ongoing protests, it has increased the sense of unease in the country.

This Sunday, there is a large demonstration planned in Madrid, which will also be supported by the conservative People’s Party (PP). Vox leader Santiago Abascal has called for a “permanent mobilisation”, demanding that the “dictator” Sánchez be brought into court. There are even rumours that protesters will try to blockade government buildings when Sánchez will be voted PM in the Spanish Congress next week. 

Some commentators, particularly on the Left, point towards a possible “Spanish January 6”. Certainly there are parallels: disappointed by its poor electoral performance earlier this year, Vox’s leadership has whipped up its base in an attempt to challenge the legitimacy of the election and the newly formed government. In doing so, protesters have also been carrying signs labelling Sánchez a traitor. It is therefore possible that we could see a confrontation with Spanish security forces similar to that which occurred in Washington a little under three years ago.

However, much like Jan 6 in DC, it is unlikely that these protests will amount to a coup. Despite the anger felt by those on the Right about the amnesty deal, the protest movement has so far been confined to Madrid, with supporters coming from traditional Right-wing strongholds. There have been rallies in other cities, but they haven’t yet gathered comparable traction. It is also possible that the violence this week will deter not only independents, but more conventional conservatives too.

While it is likely that these protests will continue for a few weeks, Spain is not headed for a new civil war. That period was marked by heavy repression, civil unrest and political violence — most of which has not occurred this time round. Once the opposition comes to terms with the fact that Sánchez will be president for another term, the energy will begin to dissipate. The anger will fade, and resignation will set in.

Miquel Vila is a political consultant specialising in international affairs. He is also the executive director of the Catalonia Global Institute.