Catalonia’s New Push for Independence

Samantha Stirmel/Staff Reporter

Catalonia has been in the news recently because of a renewed interest and subsequent vote for independence from Spain. Catalonia being indentured to Spain can be traced back to 1714 when Philip V of Spain captured Barcelona and thrust his rule over the region. In 1932, the region’s leaders declared a Catalan Republic which was consented to by the Spanish government where they awarded autonomy.

This was bittersweet as autonomy was revoked from Catalonia by General Francisco Franco after the fall of Barcelona in 1939 during the Spanish Civil War because of Franco’s ultra-conservative rule. During this point in history, Catalan nationalism was repressed, and the Catalan language was restricted by law. It was so bad that genocide was committed against many Catalan citizens upholding their roots. After Franco’s death, Catalonia gained its own parliament and executive branch and remained that way until 2006 when Spain awarded Catalonia “nation” status and taxation power.

Nationalism soared when Spain’s constitutional court set limits on Catalan’s claims to nationhood and struck down their previous ruling from 2010; many blame Spain’s 2008 debt crisis on the central government as Catalan is one of the biggest economic sources of the country. This has been a constant struggle for Catalans as they believe the region pays more to Madrid than it gets back. A change in power of Catalan’s government in 2012 led to an informal vote for independence in 2014, with most voting “yes.” This consistent sentiment of the people and Catalan government has grown and been fueled to a call for independence, the point where we are today, .

Catalonia had open voting across the region Oct. 1, 2017, taking a step towards the three-century goal of independence. The issue of Catalan citizens identifying with being Spaniards is a big issue as the sentiment in this region is against the central government from birth for most citizens. The economic issue is also one that most Catalonians care about because of the evidence that in 2014, Catalonia paid about $11.8 billion more to Spain’s tax authorities than they got back from services such as schools and hospitals, which is a big deal. Spain fought the oncoming vote aggressively by condemning the vote as being illegal, sending troops into the region to suppress it, arresting more than a dozen pro-independence officials, and even offered to support constitutional reforms granting Catalonia more funds and improved financial autonomy if the vote was canceled.

During the vote, troops stormed polling places, confiscated and promptly did away with any ballot boxes they could get their hands on. Parents camped out in schools around the region to ensure they could be opened as voting centers. Supporting members of the population resorted to hiding ballot boxes in bins of crayons at some of the elementary schools where voting took place and any other places they could find. In the end, voting resulted in 90 percent of the voters voting in favor of independence even with about 770,000 votes lost due to Spanish police raiding polling stations.

Political unrest and rioting have taken over after voting, starting directly after the Sunday vote when police took to the streets of Barcelona and across the Catalan region, using rubber bullets and truncheons to shut down polling stations and seize ballot boxes. In the immediate crackdown, more than 750 people were injured, and certainly more were in scattered cases over the riots of the week after. The Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont says the government of the region is open to talking, but Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain insists that the region has to give up its call for independence before he considers talking. The police-ordered brutality in the country forced the government to issue apologies but did nothing to stop the rising tensions in the region.

Following the vote, Catalan reached out to the EU in order to promote peaceful mediations between them and Spain but were met with absolute silence beside a few who quietly spoke in favor of the Spanish government. Some of the EU states have added talking about Catalan’s step towards independence because of fear that other regions around Europe will do the same. As of Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, Catalan leaders were working on a unilateral declaration of independence to send to Spain as a result of the voting, the same day in which Spain finally apologized for their police brutality. Spain’s Prime Minister is expected to address the assembly at 1600 GMT on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017, following the possible official submission of the declaration of Independence from Catalan.