By Steven Martin Kensington
Secessionists of Catalonia, Spain scheduled an independence referendum for 1st October 2017, to finally leave Spain, an attitude the Catalans presumably has had underlying for centuries, revolting in 1640-1652 and becoming a republic under French protection, only to be reconquered by the Spanish army not long after. They regained a considerable amount of autonomy in the Spanish transition to democracy from 1975 to 1982, but they now want total independence.
This referendum however, has not been well accepted by Spanish authorities, with the Spanish constitution court and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy deeming it illegal and vetoed the call for independence. According to Catalan officials, 90,9% of over two million voters had chosen to leave Spain, but to no avail, as Spanish authorities refuse to recognize it as independent. Polling stations were closed, ballot boxes were seized, and police tried doing all they could to stop the voting from happening, leaving almost 900 civilians injured.
There are many reasons as to why Catalonia now wants independence, but among them, there are the financial crisis, tax, and identity politics, according to Time. Many independence supporters have believed Madrid being responsible for the crisis and that Catalonia was paying more taxes to bail out the poor Spanish regions than they got in return. Catalonia is semi-autonomous in that they have their own parliament and accounts for around a fifth of Spain’s GDP. Their language, Catalan, was banned during the reign of Francisco Franco in the mid-20th century.
Catalonia also had a vote in November 2014, and got 81% voting for independence, though only 37% of all eligible voters took part, and the opponents boycotting the vote. This vote, however, was unbinding, with Rajoy, like today, deeming the referendum unconstitutional, in comparison to the vote this year, which could “trigger a unilateral declaration of independence.” The vote was organized by the Catalan government and ratified by its parliament. The Mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, stated that she supported the referendum, and signaled that the town’s residents could vote in the regional’s government facilities. Madrid however, tried to prevent the vote by any means necessary, with tensions rising in September when the Catalan parliament approved a law to hold the vote, also declaring that the region would declare independence within 48 hours if most Catalans voted yes.
The Catalan government was raided on September 20 by the Spanish Civil Guard, arresting 14 people and confiscating election material. The organization that oversees “.cat” domain websites were also raided on the same day, blocking websites with information about the referendum. The detainees were eventually released, but approximately 40000 people protested in Barcelona after the raids. FC Barcelona and the manager of Manchester City condemned this and stood in support of democracy and freedom of speech.
According to the Spanish Constitution of 1978, “the important questions need to be put to all Spaniards.” This is advantageous for Rajoy, being able to deny the Catalans a vote for independence both three years ago and today, but it is an unpopular move, and does not give a picture for the outside world as Spain being democratic. Tensions will rise even further if the Catalans establish a declaration of independence, but if they don’t, they may just have to wait another few years before the next referendum which again will be declared unconstitutional. Catalan secessionists now have a chance to opt out of Spanish control, and sacrifices will be made to make it happen. There will be silence or there will be uproar. The Catalan people have given their voices, and conflict may be due to commence if they take action to enforce the results of the referendum.