Spain faces a sudden political crisis due to Catalonia’s declaration of independence. One of Spain’s 17 autonomous provinces, Catalonia is one of Spain’s richest regions, containing the major city of Barcelona.
The Spanish Constitutional Court has ruled the referendum in favor of secession on September 30, 2017 as illegal. However, president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont officially declared independence from Spain on October 27, 2017.
This division between Spain and Catalonia has a historical origin, spanning three centuries. In 1714, Philip V of Spain captured Catalonia, leading to its inclusion in the nation. However, Catalonia has always enjoyed certain benefits of autonomy. From a cultural perspective, Catalans have their own language, based on the romance languages of southern Europe. It differs from Spanish, which was influenced by the Arabs who controlled much of medieval Spain. By 1932, the region became the autonomous Catalan Republic.
In 1939, Francisco Franco became dictator of Spain and slowly eradicated all movements for Catalan nationalism. The government oppressed Catalan institutions and language, and thousands of Catalonians lost their lives in the purges. After Franco died, the Catalonians sought some form of reparation. In 2006, Spain gave nation status and taxation power to Catalonia, but the ruling was struck down by the Constitutional Court four years later since Catalonia is a “nationality,” not a nation.
Nevertheless, Catalonia holds more power over its regional finances than other regions in Spain. The regional government manages the education system, healthcare, media, and police force — with its own parliament, language and culture. Catalonia is the most prosperous and industrialized, hosting the facilities and administrative buildings of many industries.
The region in the northeast accounts for a fifth of Spain’s economy producing 25% of the country’s exports and contributing 21% of total taxes. The Catalans believe they pay more to the Spanish government than they get in return. In 2014, Catalonia paid about $11.8 billion more than it received but this is difficult to estimate since we cannot accurately account for investment in public services, including schools and hospitals.
With the support of the courts, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy declared the vote as illegal before the vote even occurred. To enforce the ruling, he has sent in thousands of troops from the Civil Guard to seize ballot forms and shut down polling stations. Websites with info about the referendum have also been targeted. Catalonia’s regional police were also ordered to stop the vote alongside the national troops. As a result of police involvement, election day led to violence in the streets between police and Catalan voters. Police were seen using rubber bullets and truncheons to turn away potential voters. Hundreds were injured in these skirmishes.
When the last ballot had been submitted, 2.3 million people were able to successfully vote. 42 percent of about 6 million eligible voters. Of those who did vote, 90 percent voted for independence. This brings us to where we are now.