Spain's Catalonia on rugged road to independence
Barcelona, SPAIN – Catalonia, a northeastern region of Spain, has now been fighting for a few years to obtain a referendum to decide its independence. The Spanish Constitution and laws prohibit it. After striving for many years and analyzing the Constitution, Artur Mas, the president of the Catalan government, managed to organize a formal enquiry to ask the Catalan population if they wanted Catalonia to become an independent state. Some considered this enquiry to be unconstitutional and Mas is accused of illegal actions.
In the regional vote, a majority of 80.76 percent supported the independence, but only 2.25 million out of 5.4 million Catalans voted. Mas valued this as “a lesson of democracy in all caps, in a day that has served to demonstrate that Catalonia wants to rule itself.”
As expected, people who do not support the independence of Catalonia from both the Spanish and Catalan governments were criticizing the enquiry for being a “fraud of the law” and “a mockery to democracy.” Spain’s Justice Minister Rafael Catalá described it as a useless and sterile simulation that lacked democratic validity and served to aggravate the division between Catalan people.
This September, the autonomic Catalan elections will take place. Given the fact that the Spanish government does not allow a referendum for Catalans to vote on the independence, Artur Mas has made an arrangement so that these elections serve as a plebiscite. This means that if the majority of political parties in Catalonia vote for an independence, it will be considered that the Catalan community wants the independence, and the independence process will start.
Marta, a native of Andalusia, south of Spain, told Global Young Voices: “As a Spaniard, not being Catalan, I would like to have the chance to vote and give my opinion about what is going to happen to the rest of the country.”
Guillem, a radical believer of the independence process, said: "Nobody will stop us – Catalonia will be independent whether Spain wants it or not.”
The Catalan longing for independence has long been affected by historical, cultural, economic and political factors.
The central Spanish government has been setting difficulties for the Catalan community. In general, Catalonia generates a lot of benefits for Spain but it doesn’t get the equal amount of benefits in return, compared to other communities in Spain.
Catalonia has been a nation for more than a thousand years, but it has not been independent for the last 300 years. During Francisco Franco’s dictatorship from 1939 to 1975, Catalan culture and language were completely banned and a Catalan national consciousness grew to keep the identity alive.
Between 1992 and 2012, only 20 kilometers of highways were constructed in Catalonia, as opposed to 800 kilometers of highways in Madrid. Also, when traveling from Catalonia, one has to pay high tolls. When traveling from Madrid to Zaragoza, which is located halfway between Barcelona and Madrid, one pays 0 euros in tolls, whereas when traveling from Barcelona to Zaragoza, one pays 51 euros in tolls.
Besides the Spanish government limiting the use of Catalan language in schools, around 17 percent of Spanish students are Catalan, and only 8 percent of scholarships are directed to Catalan students. And when it comes to civil servants, their numbers in Catalonia are the lowest among other communities in Spain. This leaves Catalan people with more difficulties when looking for jobs.
Meanwhile, Spanish citizens complain about the existence of the Senyera, Catalonia’s flag, in some schools, arguing that the flag causes among pupils a sense of belonging to Catalonia instead of Spain.
Many people consider the independence of Catalonia as a loss and a shame to Spain.
Right now, the independence of Catalonia is regarded as a wrongful act related to the fact that Catalan people do not feel Spanish.
The main problem standing in the way of the independence is the need to change the Spanish Constitution, and 221 out of 350 members of the parliament would have to approve of the changes.
Catalonia only counts 47 parliamentary seats, and they are all from different parties that would probably not all vote for the changes required in the Constitution, just like the majority of the Spanish members. This, along with other factors, makes the road to independence very tough, but Catalan people have been fighting for this for so many years.
“No matter what people think or what the result is, one has to have the right to decide what one wants,” Ferran, a Catalan native, said. “We are fighting for the right to decide.”
cartoon credit: Cartoon Movement website, 2012