By Timoleon Palaiologos,
In the past few years, with the aftermath of the economic crisis and the rise of right-wing parties throughout Europe, there has been a subsequent revival of independence movements across the European continent. One such example is the independence movement of Catalonia’s region in Spain.
Catalonia is one of the seventeen autonomous communities that divide Spain into administrative regions, with each region having separate executive, legislative and judicial powers, similar but not identical to the 50 states of the USA. And whilst Catalonia has been an integral part of Spain for centuries, as the region itself comprises of approximately 20% of Spain’s GDP and 15% of the total population, some independence supporters believe that Catalonia gives more to Spain than it receives.
The Iberian Peninsula had not always been divided between two wholesome entities. As a matter of fact, in the early 8th century AD, the Muslim presence of the Umayyad Caliphate controlled the entirety of the peninsula. After the halt of the Muslim advance in the battle of Poitiers in 732 AD and the beginning of the Reconquista, minor Spanish kingdoms and counties appeared in the contested lands casually expanding and annexing land. One of these counties was the County of Barcelona administered by the Carolingian Dynasty. Gradually, the County of Barcelona entered a personal union with Aragon and Catalonia and was integrated in the Kingdom of Aragon in 1137 AD. Some centuries later, in 1469, the Kingdom of Castille and the Kingdom of Aragon united to form the Kingdom of Spain. After the initial unification of Spain, Catalonia had, on some occasions, expressed its will to gain independence, with the most noteworthy occasion being the proclamation of the Catalan Republic in 1931 by the governing party. The short-lived republic succumbed to the pressure from the Spanish government, yet gained legal status for their autonomy from Spain’s central government. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) Catalonia played a major role for the Republican state and subsequently, it lost its autonomy privileges when the nationalists, led by Francisco Franco, won the war. After the death of Franco, Catalonia swiftly gained full autonomy in 1979 and in 2006 Catalonia was granted a “nation” status within Spanish borders.
As mentioned above, specifically the economic crisis of 2008 was a major factor for the revival of the independence movement of Catalonia. The Constitutional Court of Spain decreased the status of autonomy of Catalonia in 2010, referring to Catalans as a “nationality” but not a nation itself. The regional Parliament of Catalonia passed a measure calling for a referendum on independence from Spain that was held on November 9th 2014. And whilst it was evident that the referendum was a political move in order to document and secure the Catalonian people’s support for independence, the referendum was characterized as a non-formal, non-binding procedure. The turnout resulted in 2.236.806 people or approximately 1/3 of the total registered voters (80%) voting in favor of independence. The pressure imposed on the Catalonian pro-independence political forces by the Spanish central government, led the President of the Government of Catalonia at the time, Arthur Mas, to call for regional parliamentary elections. The pro-independence parties received 48% of the total votes and formed a coalition placing Carles Puigdemont, Mayor of Girona, as leader of the coalition and President of the Government of Catalonia. Soon after, Puigdemont announced that a binding referendum concerning the independence of Catalonia would be held on the 1st of October 2017.
In the meantime, the central government assumed direct control of the Catalonian Police and further increased the tensions. The day of the referendum the police tried to suppress protesters and voters by preventing them from entering the polling stations and, in some instances, seizing ballots. Around 1.000 people were injured by the police. The turnout was around 43%, with 90% in favor of independence.
On October 27th 2017, the Catalonian Parliament declared independence from Spain, founding a Catalan Republic, which was not recognized by the international community. As a consequence, the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, invoked article 155 enabling him to dissolve the Catalonian parliament and put Catalonia under direct central rule until the next parliamentary elections that were to be held on the 21st of December. The new government that was formed after the elections of the 21st of December, under Quim Tora, promised to keep pushing for independence.
While there have not been any further political developments regarding the independence of Catalonia since then, the Catalonian people stand divided as half of them want independence and the other half wants Catalonia to be a part of Spain. One thing is for certain, the Catalonian “problem” is far from over and we ought to expect some escalation in the near future.
- BBC News, Catalonia’s bid for independence from Spain explained. Available here
- BBC News, Catalonia vote: 80% back independence – officials, Available here
- Encyclopedia Britannica, Catalonia | Geography, Independence Movement, & History. Available here
- Jones, S., What is the story of Catalan independence – and what happens next?, The Guardian, Available here