By Marina Compoy-LaVasco
Catalonia is located in the north-east of Spain and shares the Pyrenean mountains with southern France. It is a semi-autonomous region, meaning that Catalonia has partial self-government and is partially controlled by the government of Spain located in Madrid.
Catalonia has begun to advocate for its independence from Spain in past years, and is still strong today. This plea does not come from out of the blue. In fact, the history of independence goes all the way back to the middle ages. It was not until 1715 that they became part of Spain legally. Until then, it was just considered an independent region.
Although Catalonia eventually did become a part of Spain in legal terms, there always seemed to be a divide between them and the rest of Spain. All throughout Spain’s history, up until 1931, the Catalan culture was repressed by the Spanish kings and then again from 1939 to 1975, Franco, a Spanish dictator attempted to reject Catalan culture.
This goal of independence is shared by many Catalans. In fact, on October 1st, 2017, a so called ‘illegal referendum’ according to Spain, revealed that 90% of Catalan voters supported independence. Turnout that day was less than half the population of Catalonia though.
According to Euronews, Catalonia even makes up 20% of Spain’s economic output which makes Catalonia one of Spain’s most industrialized and richest areas. Catalonia plays a big role in Spain’s tourism as well. Located in Catalonia is the city of Barcelona which is known for its famous soccer team, Barça with Leonel Messi, and being home to Antonio Gaudi’s famous Sagrada Familia. Many forms of industry, including food-processing, also take place in Catalonia. If Catalonia were to leave Spain it would have drastic effects on Spain’s economy, so of course, Spain does not look upon this movement for independence favorably.
La Sagrada Familia by Antonio Gaudi, located in Barcelona
Spain has made attempts to suppress this fight for independence. Nine main Catalan leaders of the separatist party have been imprisoned for ranges of nine to thirteen years. Spain specifically sourced these imprisonments to being guilty of sedition. To escape prosecution, the former leader of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, is currently living in self-imposed exile in Belgium. Three other leaders were sentenced on lesser charges centering disobedience. All of this arose from the secession referendum mentioned above that Spain accused illegal. This referendum also eventually resulted in Catalonia declaring independence in October 2017. In response to the political crisis, Spain’s parliament briefly suspended Catalonia’s autonomy.
This is one form of how people represent the Catalonian leaders should be freed. Other common forms include yellow looped ribbons and Catalonian flags.
This struggle for independence has also included a series of protests occurring all throughout Catalonia. Spain has begun to deploy anti-riot police officers to control these protests. Other separatist leaders such as Quim Torra have called upon the people to participate in such protests.
Spain is currently in the process of constructing a new government. Their current prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, won the most votes in their November 10th election but lacked winning the majority. Catalonia’s strive for independence has had a large effect on this part of the political field. Pablo Iglesias, the leader of the Podemos group, offered the idea of another referendum monitored by Madrid that would be able to work with the territorial limits. Pablo Iglesias and Pablo Sánchez do not necessarily agree on how to interact with Catalonia. And although Catalonia played a large roll in the election campaign, Pablo Iglesias and Pablo Sánchez made a list of ten items that were most important to them to be dealt with and Catalonia was 9th overall.
How exactly Spain will choose to act upon Catalonia and what will happen until then is unknown. It does not seem that it’s really Spain’s top priority. What do you believe is the right path for Catalonia? Should it be one of independence or one of remaining part of Spain? Hopefully one day soon there will be a decision.