Catalan Independence Movement

On Sunday, October 1st, the Catalan government unilaterally declared independence from Spain. 90% of the 2.2 million ballots counted were in favor of independence. The E.U. Commission has declared the referendum illegal under Spanish law, despite the fact that the Catalans believe they have the right to split from Spain. The Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, responded to the referendum by sending in police forces to blockade Catalans from entering polling stations. The Spanish police confiscated ballots during violent raids, resulting in 844 civilians and 33 police personnel injured.

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Catalonian Independence History

The push for Catalan independence can be traced back to 1714 when Philip V of Spain captured Barcelona. Pro-independentists wish to restore an independent Catalonian republic which was founded in 1932. However, Catalonian autonomy only lasted until 1939 as military dictator Francisco Franco stripped away power from the former Catalan Republic, merging the region into Spanish territory. Franco repressed all forms of Catalonian autonomy. Franco’s death in 1975 gave way to a second Catalan independence movement. In 2006, Spain gave Catalonia “nation” status and taxation power. Nonetheless, four years later, the Spanish Constitutional Court struck down the ruling. The court declared that Catalan was a nationality, but not a nation.

The Current Situation

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Catalonia’s regional leader Carles Puigdemont (Flickr)

Catalonia’s regional leader, Carles Puigdemont, has assumed the presidency of the “new nation”. In full support for independence, Puigdemont denounced Rajoy’s response to the referendum, telling crowds that “police brutality will shame the Spanish state forever”. Prime Minister Rajoy fired back stating,

“We have done what was required of us. We have acted, as I have said from the beginning, according to the law and only according to the law. And we have shown that our democratic state has the resources to defend itself from an attack as serious as the one that was perpetrated with this illegal referendum. Today, democracy has prevailed because we have obeyed the constitution.”

The Spanish deputy prime minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, is backing the prime minister, questioning the legality of the referendum and state of democracy in Spain. According to the 1978 constitution, Spain is prohibited from splitting into states. Not to mention, there is little support for Catalan independence in other parts of Spain.

Spain is trying to hold onto to Catalonia for economic purposes; Catalonia is vital to the Spanish economy. According to Spain’s economy minister, a Catalan secession could shrink the Spanish economy by 25-30%. Catalonia leads all regions in producing 25% of the country’s exports. Furthermore, the tourism industry is centered around the Catalan city of Barcelona; Barcelona is Spain’s most popular tourist destination and Europe’s most popular cruise port. On another note, Catalans contribute much more in taxes than other regions, yet the government doesn’t give much back in return. This is one of the most frustrating factors for Catalans. Thus, Catalans believe they can be self-sufficient; the Spanish government is weighing down their success.  

Spain is on the brink of civil war as tensions rise between police forces and civilians. Madrid has dispatched hundreds of soldiers in two convoys of twenty trucks on the way to Barcelona. Prior to the “illegal” referendum, Madrid had more than 10,000 police stationed in Catalonia. Controversy still looms as whether this conflict is an internal or European crisis. The referendum also doesn’t necessarily guarantee autonomy. On Wednesday, October 11, Prime Minister Rajoy stated that the separatist leaders must declare if they are independent as Rajoy accused Puigdemont of having created “deliberate confusion”; the Prime Minister wishes to restore certainty. If the separatists declare independence, Madrid will invoke Article 155 of the Spanish constitution which would suspend Catalonia’s autonomy and impose direct rule on the region.

Puigdemont has until Monday to decide the future of Catalonia.

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