Spain is in an uproar. For the first time since the 1970s, Spain is facing internal conflict concerning self-governance and the right to nationalism. As an outsider looking in, I have less of an emotional stance on the issue of Catalonia’s independence, and instead just see what this community’s rally for independence is: a temper tantrum.
First, let’s get caught up to speed. Catalonia’s referendum, which was held on Oct. 1 for the right to separate from Spain, is not completely sudden or unexpected. The history of this autonomous community traces nationalist sentiments back to the 19th century, when Catalonia became one of the most prosperous communities in Spain because of its industrialization efforts.
This gave Catalonia power, which it has held to this day. In the 1930s, when Spain was under democratic rule (known as the Second Republic), Catalonia was granted some degrees of independence from Spain. They had their own regional governments and were allowed to express themselves as a different culture than Spain.
With this, the Catalan identity was born. However, when General Francisco Franco won the Spanish Civil War in 1939, Catalonia was stripped of all her independence.
Franco’s dictatorship was not kind to the different cultures of Spain. Galicia, Pais Vasco and Catalonia all faced harsh repercussions, and their regional languages and cultures were oppressed. This dictatorship has caused ripples of negative sentiments towards the government today, and many Spaniards fear the government is becoming too autocratic and corrupt. In this sentiment, I understand why Catalonia wishes so much for nationalism today.
Fast forward to the 21st century. Franco is dead, and Spain has been a constitutional monarchy since the 1970s. In 1979, Catalonia became an autonomous community within Spain, and Catalan became considered its own nationality.
Catalonia is considered the Spanish economic powerhouse, and its economy is the biggest of all the autonomous communities that make up Spain. Over the years, Catalonia has become disgruntled with the amount of money that it pays to the rest of Spain — think of this like Texas becoming angry with the U.S. government for the amount of taxes that it is required to pay each year.
As Spain has struggled more in the past few years, especially in the global economic crisis of 2007 and 2008, Catalonia has begun to demand more fiscal freedom. The rest of Spain is struggling to make it through the economic crisis, yet Catalonia complains of too many taxes. Instead of caring for the rest of Spain’s citizens, the richest autonomy begins its plans for complete independence.
In 2012, Catalonia’s government became left-wing, and it began proposing physical moves for independence. From 2013–2015, Catalonia made several moves towards declaring independence from Spain, including non-binding referendums and informal votes on independence.
These steps led to the parliament calling for an official referendum to be held on Oct. 1, 2017. However, the Spanish government in Madrid declared it unconstitutional, because, as per the very legal constitution that Catalonia signed in 1978, it is illegal to secede from Spain. The Spanish government suspended Catalonia’s calls for referendum, and decided to take more time to ponder the decision over the legality for a referendum.
This is where the Spanish government made their first mistake. The ‘suspension’ is not a suspension. The government simply calls it that to buy more time and hope that the independent uprising dies down.
The Catalan government, having heard this same response since 2013, decided to take drastic measures. The current president of Catalonia, separatist Carles Puigdemont, pushed for the referendum, calling Spain’s refusal an attack on democracy.
The clashes held on Oct. 1 in Catalonia were heard throughout Europe, and especially in Spain, which is still reeling from being under a dictatorship for almost 40 years.
The Spanish government used brute force to crush the Catalan referendum, and attempted to nip the separatist movement in the bud. However, the Catalan government and pro-separatist parties still claimed that the vote, which was 90 percent pro-independence, proved that they should separate.
What they failed to mention is that only 42 percent of voters managed to vote that day. The integrity of the ballots were also compromised by both riot police as well as citizens. The Spanish government ordered police to confiscate ballot boxes — therefore taking away votes — and several media outlets recorded evidence of voters voting multiple times, and of tampered ballot boxes. All in all, no one is innocent.
This call for independence is a call for attention, to force the hand of Spain to give in to Puigdemont’s demands. However, instead of handling this situation like adults, Spain’s government acted impulsively and selfishly, refusing to listen to the demands and create a solution.
Now, the world sees Catalonia’s cry for independence as a sad case of oppression. Brutal videos of Spanish guards attacking peaceful protesters are circulating, pulling at heartstrings everywhere.
But let’s take things seriously here. The Catalan government is overwhelmingly separatist, but that does not mean its people are.
We have no clear idea of what all of Catalonia feels about independence and its repercussions: the loss of the European Union, the potential businesses that do not want to operate in an unstable country and the testy idea of Spanish immigration. Independence will take years of development, and is riskier than most realize.
This heartfelt rally for independence might be felt strongly amongst certain citizens, but the government seems only to be fighting for the right to stop paying taxes to the rest of Spain. Only a few Catalans would benefit from this.
And then there’s the Spanish government, which is handling the situation poorly. Not only are they refusing to communicate sensibly with the Catalan government, but they proceed to invoke Article 155, stripping Catalonia of all of its autonomous power. They have revoked all of the power of the regional government, and therefore added fuel to the inferno.
If the majority of Catalans were undecided about independence before, they will take this as a sign of oppression and support the referendum now.