Spain must act fast to save Catalonia

Pro independence demonstrators hold esteladas or independence flags as right wing demonstrators wave Spanish flags, at the background, during a protest in Barcelona, Spain. Dozens of anti independence people demonstrate waving Spanish flags. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

Pro independence demonstrators hold esteladas or independence flags as right wing demonstrators wave Spanish flags, at the background, during a protest in Barcelona, Spain. Dozens of anti independence people demonstrate waving Spanish flags. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

Spain is a country divided into state-like autonomous communities, largely based on kingdoms and realms that once existed. Castile y León, Catalonia, Madrid and Aragon are three of the more commonly-known regions of Spain. Each region has its own government, similar to the American analogue, but unlike American states, Spanish regions have far less freedom of self-rule, each one having a different agreement, a Statute of Autonomy, with the larger Spanish government.

Not everything is well with the current system. There is currently a fight for independence largely under-covered by American news organizations. Spain, a country whose role in international affairs is largely left undefined, is in the middle of a referendum for independence of one of its communities.

Catalonia, a region in the north-east corner of Spain, and its capital city, Barcelona, are largely culturally distinct from the rest of Spain. An exemple of this is the language that is natively spoken. Catalan, the language spoken in the region, is not “standard” Spanish. Catalan is only spoken in Catalonia and has more French influences than Castilian, the official language of the country, the language spoken in Madrid and the version of Spanish that is taught in American schools.

The process for Catalonia to declare independence is tricky and requires a majority vote from the community. As written in the Spanish Constitution, a vote is only deemed legal if accepted by the Spanish government. As nearly all parties in power of Spain reject the notion of Catalan independence, no such vote has been created. There have been referendums in the past, though only out of symbolism. Some of such referendums have amassed upwards of 80 to 90 percent “yes” votes to independence, though critics would be quick to point out that often less than 50 percent of eligible voters ever turn out to such symbolic event.

Tensions have flared recently when Spain’s Civil Guard raided referendum hide-outs throughout Catalonia, confiscating nearly 10 million ballots while arresting fourteen officials. This harsh backlash came after the Catalan parliament “agreed” with a minority decision—after opposition parties refused to participate—to hold a mass referendum to declare independence, which is illegal on many levels according to the Catalan Statutes of Autonomy and the Spanish Constitution.

Words have been exchanged on both sides with the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, calling for a stop to the “escalation of radicalism” while the Catalan President Carles Puigdemont called the Spanish response “practices worthy of a totalitarian state”.

As masses swarm to the streets of Barcelona and other Catalonian cities in protest, it is clear the tensions will not easily be diffused. From almost every balcony in Barcelona hangs the flag of Catalonia, a red and yellow striped flag only with one modification. Instead of the plain flag, there is a white star surrounded by a blue triangle. This is the flag of independent Catalonia, the Estelada.

Walking down the streets, seeing the crowds, feeling the passion and hearing about the voting results would lead anyone to believe that an independent Catalonia was a foregone conclusion, yet the truth of the matter is largely unknown. Parties on both sides use the data to support their own desires and the truth is most likely somewhere in the middle.

While every group with a distinct culture ideally wants its own country and homeland, the task of creating a new country is daunting. Suddenly being responsible for foreign and domestic affairs that the Spanish government would normally handle is intimidating. While it is one of the largest contributors to Spain’s GDP, Catalonia would still have to face economic independence.

Whether or not the people of Catalonia want independence, the fact still stands that the Spanish and Catalonian governments must figure out a compromise, or else conflict will continue to escalate. While reworking the Statute of Autonomy to give Catalonia more rights might ease the tension, Spain must deal with the underlying disagreements between its multi-cultural inhabitants.


David Csordas is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at david.csordas@uconn.edu.