• Meredith Kent

Catalonian Referendum: The How’s, Why’s and “Where do we go from Here’s”


(Pro separatist protesters gather to voice their want for Catalonian independence)

CATALONIA, a region that sits in the most northeastern part of Spain; known as the birthplace of Picasso’s most formative artistic movements and known for it’s vast expanses of gorgeous sea line like, Aigua Blava. The capital city of Catalonia, Barcelona, is one of the most culturally and economically successful cities in all of Europe. Though, through it’s massive cultural and economic standpoints, Catalonia has been fac

ed with decades of modern political unrest.

On October 1st, 2017, 43% of the voting population of Catalonia went to vote on whether or not Catalonia should secede from the country of Spain; something that had been in the works of the Catalonian parliament since November 9th of 2015 when the pro-separatist political coalition, Junts pel Sí, and the Candidatura d'Unitat Popular party received overwhelming support in parliament to begin “The process of democratic disconnection won’t be subject to Spanish institutions…” (according to parliamentary text). The outcome of the vote held on October 1st showed that 90% of those who voted upon the ballot question of, “Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?” voted yes. Though why would the government and people of Catalonia ever want to break away from Spain? Why did only less than half the population participate in the vote itself? What does independence mean for Catalonia?

A Crash Course in Franco and Spanish Fascism

We are able to answer this first question by looking at the past political strife of Catalonia beginning in the 1930s with the Spanish Civil War and the Franco Era that saw the oppression of Catalonian culture and mass brutality to the citizens of Catalonia. Under the rule of Dictator, General Francisco Franco, there was a heavy authoritarian and fascist rule throughout Spain. In Catalonia specifically, the language of Catalonia, Catalan, was banned; all leaders of the opposition to the Franco leadership were killed along with over 3 500 Catalonian citizens, and the area became overrun with POW camps (citizens arrested for speaking out against or acting against the Franco regime). This was to preserve the aristocratic nationalist movement of Franco who wished to separate the country from the Second Spanish Republic Democrats. The death of Franco ushered Spain into a democracy in the late 1970s and a new wave of anatomical promises for Catalonians who felt the sting of Franco’s oppression at the loss of their culture and livelihood.

“I lived during Franco’s regime, and it was a very oppressive period. Before, if you voiced your discontempt you could lose a hand or end up dead….but I am not too sure that the democracy in this country is real.” (Anonymous Catalonian citizen interviewed by Beme News)

To Vote or to not Vote (or to not be fired upon)? That is the Question...

The culture that was lost during the Franco decades can never be reclaimed, but in the spirit of the pro-autonomous movements in Catalonia, secession could mean the preservation of what has not been destroyed by the previous Spanish government. Catalonia itself is seen as a “crutch” for the poorer regions of Spain in the aftermath of the global financial crisis that lasted between 2008 and 2011. So, when it came to vote on Catalonian independence, the 5 313 164 Catalonians that did turn out, were vehemently pro-independence. Though, where is the other 57% of voters? Many in the opposition simply did not want to participate in an act of defiance against the pro-separatist party. There were also many who feared the brutality that would be brought upon the voters by the National Police. The vote itself was not legal in the eyes of the judiciary system of Madrid, backed by the Spanish government; on all accounts this was seen as treason against the Spanish government. The vote, and the mass amount of people prompted riot police to show up at peaceful polling stations all around Catalonia, and brutality did occur. Spanish Foreign Minister, Alfonso Dastis, later regarded the acts of horrific violence brought upon the voters via physical altercations and being fired upon with rubber bullets from law enforcement with the Trumpian mantra (writer’s note: I know, I’m cringing too) of “fake news.” This was anything but fake news. Human Rights Watch is now working with Spanish NGOs (non-government organizations) into cases of police brutality in the voting process.

In short: where did the 57% go? They were left to hide from their right to vote democratically; faced by the pressures of accepting a separation and possibly being beaten. Not an easy choice to make.

“Now my dream is slowly coming true...slowly, painfully, and still totally unrecognized by the Spanish government or the European Union” - Freddie Mercury (sort of)

“Now my dream is slowly coming true” a lyric from the the 1987 Queen song featuring Montserrat Caballé, “Barcelona”, for the 1992 summer Olympic games in Catalonia, rings true (mostly) to the pro-separatist movement of Catalonia. After the vote on the first of October, for weeks on end, protests erupted in Barcelona; calling for a dialogue between the Spanish and Catalonian governments. Protests and public demonstrations were held both by the pro-separatists and those who did not wish to become independent from Spain.

On October 27th, Catalonia officially declared its independence, passing a resolution in parliament for it to be seen as an autonomous democracy, an independent state. How do you think Spain took this? Not well, and not kindly. The Spanish government enacted Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution to put a stop to the formal recognition of independence. Why is Article 155 so important? This article states that the government is allowed to suspend a region’s autonomy under specific conditions; a referendum, maybe? In this case, the government of Madrid has now fully taken control of Catalonia; it has not recognized it’s declaration of independance; and has fired the President of the Government of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont i Casamajó, along with the entirety of his cabinet (though as of now, no civil servant has been met with an official letter of dismissal, other than the President). In the face of the European Union, they see this as simply, not their problem. In a time of rising nationalism and separatism in the EU, an unrecognized call for the independence of one of Spain’s wealthiest regions is not something they want to deal with, or recognize themselves. As of now they support Spain’s decision of enacting Article 155 and their position to not recognize Catalonia as independent.

Where do we go from here?

As of now, Catalonia is in a limbo of autonomy; they’re in the market for new management (by force); and their former government officials are facing thirty years of imprisonment. The government of Madrid is calling for re-election of Catalonian officials to take place this December. In terms of government and economy, where does Catalonia go from here?

As of now, Catalonia is a self declared independent state without a proper head of local government. In terms of their economic standpoint, business is beginning to falter, over 1 600 companies have decided to move their headquarters out of Catalonia amidst the protests and political crisis. This could spell disaster for both Spain and Catalonia as, Catalonia accounts for a fifth of the entire economic output of Spain; crippling that could mean disaster for both sides.

Now, Spain and Catalonia must face their actions that lead to this political blunder, head on in the coming months. On the 30th of October, Catalonian secessionists called for civil disobedience as an act of protest against Madrid; though there was very little support met. Teachers, emergency workers and other members of the public sector carried about their monday as usual. In Catalonia right now, civil servants, public sector workers, citizens, are just looking for normalcy to return.