Catalonia’s Push for Independence

By Jennifer Singh, Reporter

Catalonia, one of Spain’s most economically successful regions, has been pushing for independence, yet the country and the region are on opposite sides.

Located in the northeastern region of Spain, Catalonia, which carries 16 percent of Spain’s population, embodies diversity with its own language of Catalan, and its own culture and way of living. Catalonia has provided much success to the country of Spain, and has become one of the most industrialized districts of the country. However, Catalonia has recently pushed to secede from the country, holding an election on Oct. 1, where 90 percent of the 2.26 million voters voted in favor of independence.

Spain, however, has refused to allow Catalonia to become independent, and recognizes what they would lose with the secession of the region. If Catalonia were to become independent, the country of Spain would lose one of its most profitable regions. Spain’s economy would suffer greatly, as they would lose a large number of taxpayers. The country has therefore declared the referendum illegal. Citing Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, the country explains that central authorities are allowed to take control of any of Spain’s 17 regions. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy described that the situation in Catalonia is “a clear violation of the laws, of democracy, of the rights of all, and that has consequences.”

Spain made the consequences clear, as Madrid stormed Catalonia with thousands of police in anticipation of the October vote. Officers seized millions of ballots, sealed designated polling stations, and on the day of the vote, police attempted to prevent voting by firing rubber bullets at protesters and voters, breaking into polling stations, and even forcing voters out by their hair. Nearly 900 were injured in the event, however the national government supported their decision to try and delay voting by referencing Spain’s constitution that describes how Spaniards have a right to vote on all major issues, and this referendum was considered a major issue.

The way Catalonia went about the referendum caused extreme controversy. Susan Douglass, a Spanish teacher at Cleveland, believes that “the government was very threatened by how they did it by having their own vote, so obviously if they have their own vote they’re all going to vote yes, but the rest of the country has no say.”

Douglass also sees the situation as “just another example of how fractured Spain has always been.” The country has had issues with Catalonia for years. The political party advocating for Catalonia’s secession has existed since 1922. According to BBC news, Catalonia lived among a broad autonomy before the Spanish Civil War in 1936, but that sense of freedom was suppressed under General Francisco Franco’s dictatorship from 1939 to 1975. It took the death of Franco to regain autonomy once again under the 1978 constitution. However, Catalonia’s autonomy has been “watered-down,” as Madrid forced the mainstream Spanish language of Castilian Spanish and culture upon them following Franco’s dictatorship, and Spain has continued to take from Catalonia’s economy, providing nothing in return. Catalans are frustrated from the years of recession and cuts in public spending. They have reached a tipping point.

It is important to stay updated on these types of situations and to think about what has led up to them. Tim Graham, a Cleveland social studies teacher, encourages students to relate current events like this to events in the past. With a unit on the Civil War coming up in one of his classes, comparing and contrasting the secession in Catalonia and that of  the history of the United States and how it affects countries in different ways could be interesting ideas. “It’s pretty interesting to think about what happens to a government when parts of the country want to leave,” Graham explains. “I think it’s a fascinating thing.”

So where does Catalonia now stand? The region has yet to accept that their actions were considered illegal. Catalans and the Catalonia government still see themselves as a free and independent country, unwilling to back down. According to BBC, independence activists are calling for mass demonstrations to “defend the republic.” Madrid’s high court also jailed the heads of Catalonia’s two main separatist groups, and thousands have taken to the street in Barcelona to demand the release of the activists as reported by ABC. Catalonia now refuses to wave the Spanish and European flags because of their disapproval, showing how the region is not going to back down anytime soon.

The possibility of Spain ever being willing to let one of their most successful regions go is very unlikely. “Their country is so culturally diverse that it makes sense that they want to be independent,” Douglass explains, “but I think they’ve got too long of a history of all being part of the same country [for the Spanish government] to ever let that happen.”