Article by Razel Suansing
When one visits Barcelona (the capital of Catalonia, Spain), they discern its most prominent features. They notice La Sagrada Familia which leaves many in awe due to its heaven-like magnificence and the genius of its architect, Antoni Gaudi. They notice the multitude of people that wear their FC Barcelona jerseys with pride as they emulate the club’s motto, més que un club. Finally, they notice a flag draped over the balconies of almost every apartment in the city – the Catalan flag. One would realize, especially after visiting Madrid, that the Catalans have a distinct culture to the rest of Spain. In order to understand how these qualities came to be, one must refer back to Catalonia’s history.
Prior to the Spanish Civil War, Catalonia had benefited from autonomy. After the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), Spain fell under the oppressive dictatorship of General Francisco Franco. He had suppressed the Catalan culture. According to the New York Times, “the government tried to stamp out all Catalan institutions and the language, and thousands of people were executed in purges. Virtually no Catalan family emerged from that period unscarred”.
After Franco’s death, the Catalan pride was revived. A law passed in 2006 granted the region a boost in their financial clout and written description of a nation. However, the Spanish Constitutional Court in 2010 reversed this decision angering most of the Catalans. This led to the yearning of a referendum for independence.
The two main reasons why Catalans yearn for independence are cultural differences and economic reciprocation. Catalans differ from the rest of Spain culturally as they have their own language, traditional symbols (such as the bars of Aragon), traditional clothes and more. The New York Times article also explains that “Many Catalans have grown to adulthood believing that they were, simply, not Spanish”. The other reason is that Catalonia is the richest region in Spain and Catalans believe that the monetary benefits they provide for the Spanish government are not reciprocated. A Washington Post article states that “Catalans often complain that they contribute more in taxes to the Spanish government than they get back. In 2014, Catalonia paid about $11.8 billion more to Spain’s tax authorities than they got back”. However, the BBC explains that “the complexity of budget transfers makes it hard to judge exactly how much more Catalans contribute in taxes than they get back from investment in services such as schools and hospitals”.
As 90% of those who voted in the Catalonia Referendum were in favor of a split, the implications must be explored. According to CNN, “Catalonia accounts for nearly a fifth of Spain’s economy, and leads all regions in producing 25% of the country’s exports”. So, if Catalonia leaves, Spain will suffer a massive economic setback. Catalonia, on the other hand, would also suffer, as it would be forced to apply for an EU membership individually, which involves convincing all the current members of the bloc to agree, including Spain.
Mr. Ramos, a Spanish teacher in ISM, believes that the issue is “complex” and must not be taken lightly. “There is a big part of the population in Cataluña who feels “Spanish” and another big part that does not feel Spanish at all. Nationalism is a very romantic idea, but it can be used as a weapon against each other, both Spanish nationalism and Catalan nationalism.”
He states that this issue has been recurring throughout Spain’s recent history. “I have to say that this was [foreseen] as evidenced by the accumulating tensions and confrontations from years back. A few years ago the Supreme Court declared the reformed Autonomy law unconstitutional, that created a dead-end for many Catalans who wanted more autonomy.”
His reaction to the issue reflects what many feel at this moment. “My reaction is sadness. I am sad about the situation the politicians have created. I wake everyday nervous about the news, although, always hoping for the best.“
The world must keep themselves posted on this issue and make sure that human rights rises as the top priority regardless of how heated the debate about the topic of independence becomes. The government must not use their military power to forcibly impose their beliefs on the Catalan protesters. In accordance with this, Catalan protesters must not abuse their right to free speech by using malicious diction against the government. The world continues to sit at the edge of their seats as they watch how this issue will be resolved as well as discover to what extent autonomy will be attained in the region.