Within the past two months, Spain and Catalonia have gained international attention for the call of Catalan independence from Spain. Catalonia is a region in Northeastern Spain with a population of 7.5 million, making them 15% of the Spanish population. This referendum simply asks whether Catalans want to become an independent state in the form of a republic – a vote for yes would separate Catalonia from the Spanish state. In 1932, the Spanish government and Catalonian leaders had agreed to a state of autonomy, but their autonomous status was threatened in 1939 by the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. Franco stripped them of this autonomy and since, the Catalans have been working on their fight to independence. This referendum was not their first: another “illegal Catalan self-determination referendum”, also known as the Citizen Participation Process on the Political Future of Catalonia, was held in November 2014. This referendum had a vote of 80% in favor, but since it was “illegal”, they could not act on their referendum results. Catalonia is now insisting they have the right to declare independence from Spain after the October 1st referendum.
Why does Catalonia want independence?
For the Catalans, this has been a three-century fight towards their region’s autonomy. While the region has their own language, laws and customs, this fight can mainly be contributed to a want for more financial freedom. Catalonia is the richest region in Spain and the most highly industrialized region as well. The region accounts for 20% of Spain’s national economy and Catalans frequently complain that they contribute more in taxes to the Spanish government than they get back. Their secession would cost Spain 20% of its economic output; with such a significant contribution to the Spanish GDP, it would negatively affect the Spanish government.
A date for self-determination
While referendums are constitutional, many times a government’s central state will view referendums as potentially dangerous and usually a catalyst to substantial changes within a country. A referendum could increase polarization in already divided societies, and this is exactly what is being displayed in Spain. On October 1st, Catalonian separatist leaders opened polling stations for what the National Spanish Government called an “illegal” independence vote. The results came in at 90% voting in favor of independence.
What has the Spanish government done?
Tensions were high at the polling stations on October 1st as Spanish police officers fired rubber bullets and beat voters with batons as they tried to disperse crowds gathering to vote. Spanish Guardia Civil officers raided a dozen Catalan regional government offices and arrested 14 senior officials on the Wednesday before the vote, as part of an operation to stop the referendum from taking place. Police also forcibly dragged voters out of polling stations as they tried to vote. The violence has gathered national attention and despite backlash from European communities, the Spanish government has been insistent that the vote was illegal. Spanish courts say the referendum was deemed illegal under law that states referendums go against national sovereignty and the “indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation.” Protestors gathered outside the Barcelona headquarters of Spain’s national police force on Tuesday October 3rd in protest of police violence after the Spanish government tried to stop their voting. Municipal police in Barcelona say 15,000 demonstrators stopped traffic, as schools, universities and FC Barcelona went on strike.
What can we expect for the future of Catalonia and Spain?
The Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, stated that the referendum “only served to cause serious harm to coexistence” among Spaniards but he is “not going to close any door” to dialogue. Catalonia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Raul Romeva Rueda, stated he is hoping for an open dialogue with the Spanish government. “What we have always demanded is a political dialogue. The opportunity to (practice) democracy, to allow everybody to express themselves … We want to talk, we need to negotiate. The problem is nobody’s listening from the Spanish state side.” It seems as if both sides are looking for a negotiation and hoping for things to deescalate.
WACC Intern (Fall 2017)