On Saturday, the 26th of October, around 350,000 separatist protesters gathered in streets Barcelona (BBC, Crisis). They demand complete autonomy from the Spanish state, and many in the region have been demanding this freedom for centuries (BBC, Profile). Catalonia has an extremely distinct identity, and due to this, they do not identify with the government of Spain. Catalonians have their own language, flag, parliament, and institutions (BBC, Profile). They consider themselves to be their own people. They have many of the characteristics of the state, however, multiple Spanish governments have now rejected their plea for a referendum for independence. Catalonian politicians decided to hold their own referendum in 2017, with 90% of voters voting to leave. However, it is important to note that anti-independence Catalonians boycotted this referendum so the results were not necessarily indicative of the entire Catalonian people. Legislators of Catalonia’s government declared the results as legitimate, but the Spanish government swiftly reasserted their control upon the region (Reuters, Allen). Along with this, the European Union has stated that the issue of Catalonian independence should be handled by the Spanish government (BBC, Explained). Unfortunately for Catalonia, they are alone in their fight for freedom.
Catalonia is located in the northeast region of Spain and is the home of Barcelona, Girona, and countless other small cities and towns. Since the founding of Catalonia, they have been a part of Spain. While over the course of history they have been given autonomy in certain instances, in others their autonomy has been stripped back significantly. Since the 19th century, the idea of complete autonomy has spread throughout the region steadily. The movement has seen significant traction in recent years due to numerous factors including a weak Spanish economy and the 2010 court ruling that “set limits on Catalan claims to statehood.” (BBC, Explained)
The modern Catalonian push for statehood started in 2008 in the wake of the debt crisis in Spain and the global market crash. Spain has still not completely recovered, and the capitol relies heavily on Catalonia to carry a large burden of the economy. Many in Catalonia feel that the Spanish government takes more from them than they get in return (BBC, Success of Independence?). The separatist sentiments that have been spurred on from these events have caused many separatist legislators to win elections into the Catalonian Parliament. Some of the more outspoken separatist leaders have been arrested or have taken refuge in other countries to avoid arrest. The way that the Spanish government has handled the situation is cause for great concern for the state of Spanish democracy. They are clearly suppressing the voice of separatists, and Catalonians can only hope that this suppression does not expand.
This entire separatist movement in Catalonia should be of great concern to the Spanish government so it is no wonder why they have been so judicially harsh towards some separatists. The protests have turned deadly, and hundreds have been injured. These protests, and the separatist Catalonian movement, in general, are a huge threat to the internal sovereignty of Spain. Countless other regions in Spain have unique regional identities, flags, and sometimes languages. If Catalonia gained independence, other regions that do not identify with the central Spanish government could attempt to follow suit. Because of this, the Spanish government must think of new ways to become in favor of the Catalan people. Unfortunately for Spain, this could involve giving close to complete autonomy to Catalonia. Regions such as the Basque region have their own separatist movements, language, and identity. Identities and languages in Spain are extremely diverse. I believe that there is a lack of national identity in Spain because of this.
While the Catalan people have expressed a clear desire for independence, the question remains. Is Catalonia a viable state? I believe that it really is for a multitude of reasons. To start it already has institutions and a parliament in place that is ready to function independently. Although even with this, it still lacks many of the characteristics of a modern state. Strong leadership in creating government organizations such as an army and border control force would be imperative viability of a Catalan state.
Catalonia has a strong enough economy. The region of Catalonia has become a tourist hotspot in recent years and has also begun to expand into many other lucrative industries. While Spain’s economic struggles have burdened the region significantly, Spain still seeks to keep control of the region. A large factor in this need is the fact that Catalonia accounts for 19% of Spain’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (BBC, Success of Independence?). It is also a key port for exporting goods. In the long run, I believe that Catalonia has the economic resources to maintain a viable state.
Another important aspect of Catalonian independence is its inclusion into the European Union. Currently, the separatist movement has not garnered the support of the EU. It would be extremely difficult for the economy of Catalonia to thrive without at a trade deal with the EU at a bare minimum. This particular issue of EU inclusion is where many draw the line on Catalan independence. Not being part of the EU would also significantly hurt their tourism sector.
These recent protests have demonstrated what we have known for a long time about the Catalonian people. They demonstrated their clear desire to become independent, which they strived towards over the course of centuries. While at different points they have been able to tolerate the rule of Spain, it seems as if all of the pent up frustrations are coming to an intersection.
Allen, Nathan. “Timeline: Key Dates in Catalonia’s Independence Bid.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 13 Oct. 2019, www.reuters.com/article/us-spain-politics-catalonia-timeline/timeline-key-dates-in-catalonias-independence-bid-idUSKBN1WS0S9.
“Catalonia Crisis: Separatist Protest Draws 350,000 in Barcelona.” BBC News, BBC, 27 Oct. 2019, www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-50194846.
“Catalonia Region Profile.” BBC News, BBC, 11 June 2018, www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-20345071.
“Catalonia’s Bid for Independence from Spain Explained.” BBC News, BBC, 18 Oct. 2019, www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-29478415.
“Could Catalonia Make a Success of Independence?” BBC News, BBC, 22 Dec. 2017, www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-41474674.