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Monday, February 22, 2021

MEDIA MONDAY / ANALYSIS OF THE CATALAN INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENT; NINE CENTURIES OF DISCORD

Millions attended the protests, yet, in 2010 only 20% of Catalans supported secession. In 2012, a mass protest on the National Day of Catalonia, September 11, explicitly asked for the Catalan government to take steps toward independence. 

GUEST BLOG / By The Eurasia Center, Washington DC
--The Catalan independence movement is a social and political nationalistic movement in which the northeast region of Catalonia seeks independence from the rest of Spain. 

This movement also extends to the other Catalan Countries, territories in which Catalan is spoken, small parts of France, Italy, Andorra, and other neighboring regions of Spain. 

However, the movement primarily focuses on Catalonia’s own push for independence from Spain rather than absorbing lands claimed by other countries. Although the modern movement began in the 21st century, the Catalan fight for independence has existed in one form or another since medieval times. 

Catalans have resented their Spanish rule since the 12th century when a Barcelonan count married the Queen of Aragon, making Catalonia part of the Kingdom of Aragon and no longer independent. As the wealthiest region in Spain and centered around the profitable Mediterranean port of Barcelona, Catalonia has always been at the center of its kingdom’s economy and culture— a trend that still exists today. 

As such, Catalans have always tended to be wealthier than those who possess their land, thus feeling as though they have unjustly supported the rest of the country financially. 

Under the unification of Spain in the late 15th century with the marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castille, Catalonia became part of Spain. However, Catalans still preserved their own parliament, laws, and language rather than become fully absorbed into Spanish culture. 

Upon Columbus's first voyage to the Americas, a reception was held in Barcelona by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand.

Yet, under Spanish rule, Catalans were never fully at peace. 

In 1640, the territory first rebelled and sought its independence along with Portugal. Although the Portuguese got their independence, the Catalans did not, and discontent remained within the region. Various efforts for independence prevailed but were unsuccessful for the next few centuries. 

Additionally, the Castilian Spanish rule began to discriminate against the Catalan language and culture, and the Catalans revived their separate identity from the rest of Spain. The Spanish Civil War was even more devastating for Catalonia’s status as the Catalans fought against the fascism of Francisco Franco. 

Ironically, many Catalonian republicans, such as these demonstrators in Barcelona in 1936, resisted Franco's attempt to overthrow the Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War.



Once under Franco’s reign, the Catalans were discriminated against even further with the suppression of all minorities: their language, music, and even dances were banned. Franco also moved other Spaniards into Catalonia in an effort to dilute the Catalan population. After Franco’s death in 1975, Catalonia gained a new constitution with greater regional autonomy and control over its own language and education, making Catalan once again taught in schools and its identity much stronger. 

Catalonia’s history of discrimination and fight have pushed the region’s modern national identity and drive for independence today. 

So, in 2010 when the Constitutional Court of Spain ruled that some elements of the 2006 Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia, a text that provides basic institutional regulations for Catalonia agreed upon by both Spain and Catalonia, were unconstitutional and needed to be interpreted more restrictively, the Catalans began to protest again. 

These protests quickly came to also include calls for independence once more. Many modern Catalans believe that their region has the right to self-determination, especially since it has financially supported Spain much more than it has received in return. More than 550 municipalities in Catalonia held symbolic independence referendums between 2009 and 2011. 

Millions attended the protests, yet, in 2010 only 20% of Catalans supported secession. In 2012, a mass protest on the National Day of Catalonia, September 11, explicitly asked for the Catalan government to take steps toward independence. As a result, Catalan president Artur Mas called for a snap general election on the issue, which resulted in a majority of voters as pro-independence for the first time. 

This demand for an independent state was unique in the sense that it was connected to no other concrete program for change or specific political party; it was instead a simple proposition by the people to unite around the common goal of independence and unification for all Catalans regardless of other differences in political opinions. 

A few months later, Catalonia’s parliament adopted the Catalan Sovereignty Declaration, which asserted that Catalans had the right to determine their own political future. 

However, the movement struggled to reach certain segments of the population: big businesses and traditional power centers, as well as many of the working class neighborhoods in industrial and post-industrial areas where descendants of the Spaniards who migrated there during Franco’s regime are still concentrated. 

In November 2014, Catalonia held a referendum in which citizens answered two questions on whether or not they wanted 1) Catalonia to become a state, and 2) that state to become independent if so. The government of Spain ruled this referendum unconstitutional, making the government of Catalonia change it from a binding one to a non-binding consultation. 

Even so, Spain banned the non-binding vote; yet Catalonia still conducted it. 81% of Catalans who participated voted yes to both questions. However, another election in September 2015 gained the majority of seats for pro-independence parties yet fell just short of the majority of votes with 47.8%. Even such, the new parliament declared that the region would start the independence process in November 2015. 

A Spanish riot police officer swings a club against would-be voters near a school assigned to be a polling station by the Catalan government in Barcelona.

Mas’ successor, Carlos Puigdemont, ignored warnings from the Spanish government and pushed forward with the region’s plans for a referendum in October 2017. With the upcoming referendum central to all Catalan politics as well as a confrontation with the Spanish government, Catalonia still lacked a solid plan on how to accomplish its independence goal. 

Although Puigdemont’s government publicly promised that the referendum would occur, it privately believed that the Spanish government would stop it, leading to a lack of plan for what would happen after the referendum occurred. Moreover, Spanish police attempted to use force to stop the referendum and Spain declared it illegal once more. 

However, the referendum did occur as planned with 90% of participants voting for independence and a 42% voter turnout. As a result of the referendum, Puigdemont signed a declaration of independence, also proposing that it be suspended for two months to allow for conversations. 

However, when Catalonia voted later that month to unilaterally declare independence from Spain, the Spanish senate immediately approved the use of article 155 in Spain’s constitution, allowing for the national government to directly assume rule of Catalonia, remove Puigdemont and his cabinet from office, and call for another snap regional election. 

Key members of Catalonia’s government and pro-independence activists were arrested and charged while others fled to Belgium before they could face arrest. Spanish direct rule was not lifted until June 2018 when a new Catalan government took control. Since the referendum, Catalonia’s independence movement has lost momentum even though some major Catalan politicians still push for it. 

Some argue for a unilateral uncompromising path toward independence, whereas others suggest a less confrontational and more pragmatic approach. In 2019, Spain’s Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan independence leaders, convicting them of sedition and other crimes against the Spanish state for their role in the 2017 independence referendum, sparking a whole new wave of protests against the Spanish government calling for amnesty for the convicted leaders and the renewal of Catalan independence. 

Since February 2020, the Catalan and Spanish governments have agreed to meet monthly, committing to discuss the political conflict face-to-face with both sides sitting down for negotiations. President of the Spanish government Pedro S├ínchez reiterated in June 2020 that the way out of the conflict with Catalonia will be through “dialogue, political agreement, and electoral referendum.” But there is no clear path for a resolution between Spain and Catalonia whose peoples share different languages and separate national identities, as well as complete opposite directions for their political futures. 

Only time will tell if and when Catalonia can finally achieve the independence it has sought for nine centuries. 

It was not lost on the world that during Spain’s remarkable road to winning soccer’s 2010 World Cup, flags of Basque and Catalan independence flew along side the national flag of Spain. 



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