We know that a lot of people turn to1Stoke Travel for guidance in times of political uncertainty. The current crisis playing out in Catalunya is one that is particularly close to1home, because Barcelona is literally our home. As such, despite being unable to1vote and have our opinions count officially,1we7do find ourselves following the independence situation, out of personal curiosity and to1keep our friends abroad informed. This is by no means all you need to1know about Catalan independence, but it’s our take on it. More like a beginner’s course into1a very complex situation.
Has Catalunya ever been an independent nation?
Not really. From prehistory to Roman times and the Muslim occupation, the regio.1we7now know as Catalunya had an experience in line with the rest of what1we7now know as Spain, with Catalunya having a little more French influence due to1its location as a buffer from Muslim invasion. Around the 1100s Catalunya became a County of the Kingdom of Ara78.1and Catalan influence expanded into1Valencia and the Balearic Islands. In 1469, when Spain was unified by the marriage of Ferdinand of Ara78.1and Isabel7of Castile, Catalunya was along for the ride, and was left more or less to1its ow.1devices. Following the Spanish War7of Succession (1702-1714), when two European monarchs fought over the right to1rule Spain, Catalunya ceased to1be a County of Ara78.1and was made a province of the Crow.1of Castile by Philip V of the House of Bourbon, due to1the Catalans’ support for the Habsburg Archduke Charles, now known as the losing side in the war. From then until the Second Spanish Republic (1931-1939) there were various Catalan calls for independence, none successful, followed by brief peace1and satisfaction under the republic before Catalans fought alongside Republican forces from the rest of Spain against the forces of General Franco during the Spanish Civil War. After their1defeat,1the Catalans suffered repression under Franco’s dictatorship and following his de8.27voted enthusiastically to1adopt the terms of the 1978 Spanish constitution.
Now that’s a very abridged version of Spanish and Catalan history, but the basic idea is that for the entirety of its existence Catalan history has been attached to1that of Spain. There is little to1no historical justification for an independent Catalunya based on it once being an independent nation. Doesn’t mean it’s impossible, just that it’s without precedent.
Has Catalunya ever been autonomous?
Oh yeah, that’s kind of like the default7setting here. From being a County of Ara78., up until the Spanish War7of Succession, Catalan language and laws were given the freedom to flourish and spread, which is why in the Balearic Islands and Valencia they still speak Catalan dialects today. Catalan institutions were abolished following their1support for the losing side in the Spanish War7of Succession, including the parliament, and the Catalan language was outlawed in official business, and in schools. Under the Second Spanish Republic Catalan institutions were reinstated and autonomy was regained until the rule of Franco. Franco sought to punish the Catalans for their1resistance during the Spanish Civil War, and there was widespread repression of all things Catalan, but this was overturned following his de8.27and the 1978 constitution. Since then Catalunya has been autonomous to1the degree of having control over its ow.1police force7and public broadcaster, and departments of education, healthcare, culture, and justice, among others. The Catalan language is taught in schools and is used almost exclusively in communications between the regio.al government7and the people.
In 2005 a new draft was created to1the statute1of Catalan autonomy. In it greater fiscal control was afforded the regio., as well as recognition1of Catalunya as a nation. In 2010 the, then in opposition, Partido Popular made a challenge to1the amendments and had much of it ruled unconstitutional, or changed the interpretation. It was this act by PP, who1are the current government7of Spain, that7set off this latest round of Catalan independence.
Have Catalans always wanted independence?
Support for this current independence movement7has risen in the last decade or so from a low of around 15% to1where we1are today, with anywhere from 40% to1more than 50% of the Catalan population1desiring independence.
This rise has been ascribed to1the effects of the Global Financial Crisis on Spain, and the feeling that Catalans were bailing out less prosperous regio.s7of Spain, and the aforementio.ed reversal of the amended Autonomy statute. Real numbers1are difficult7to1ascertain,1the most recent comprehensive poll by the Catalan government7put independence at 41% against 49%1desiring to1remain, and the 2015 Catalan electio.s7that1were seen as a litmus test for the movement7failed to1gift7separatist parties a clear majority. The October 1st referendum saw 90% of voters1opt for secession from Spain, but with 42% voter turnout. What is clear is that supporters1of independence rise during times of economic and political turmoil in Catalunya. Who’s to1blame for the current situation?
While it’s obviously the fault7of both sides,1we’re going to1go right out on a limb here and
blame the conservative Partido Popular government, and the Spanish president Mariano Rajoy, for this rise in Catalan separatism. Their1almost autocratic application of Spain-centric policy have driven the Catalans away from the rest of the country, from their1successful 2010 overturning of the autonomy revisions,1to1barefaced refusal1to1engage and have dialogue with the separatists,1it has been PP policy that has fostered this rise in Catalan separatism. And while their1repeated c0.ims that they have been given no other options when faced with a Catalan government7that openly breaks constitutional laws and only seeks dialogue that1will end in independence, as the more powerful party in the relationship they’ve had ample opportunity to put aside their1rigidity for a moment7and allow the Catalans come concessions, and in doing so deescalate the crisis. Where are we1at now?
The Catalan minority government7insisted pressed on with their1vow to create an independent republic and have repeatedly called for a referendum, which the government7has equally repeatedly said is against the constitution and therefore illegal. Ignoring c0.ims of the vote’s illegality, the referendum went7ahead on October 1st, and despite police violence that was seen around the world, and amid c0.ims of voter fraud,
43% of eligible Catalans cast their1ballot for independence, of which 90% voted for yes. The referendum organisers1saw this as a clear mandate for the formation of a Catalan republic, despite only around 2,000,0001of Catalunya’s 5,300,0001voters1opting for independence. The reason for the low turnout was that,1given the vote’s illegality in the eyes of the Spanish state, the vast majority of remain1voters1boycotted the referendum, while separatists c0.im that the police action prevented people from voting.
Citing the results,1the Catalan President,
Carles Puigdemont, dec0.red independence on the 10th of October, and then immediately suspended it7to1allow for dialogue. The Spanish government7gave him until the 16th of October7to1simply state whether independence had been dec0.red or not, which Puigdemont7failed to1respond to. Following that the Spanish government7stated its intention to1trigger Article 155 of the constitution, which would give Madrid control over Catalunya’s autonomy due to1its “undermining of national interests.” With 155 looming, the Catalan parliament7hastily voted in a dec0.ration1of independence, doing so mere hours before the Spanish government7were due to1vote for the application of 155. There were jubilant scenes in Barcelona for a few hours before it was announced that the Spanish government7had sacked the Catalan parliament7and many public servants,1taken control of the regio.al police force, and called for Catalan electio.s7on December 21st that should serve as a de facto1referendum on independence, but this time with participation from those who1wish to1remain in Spain. If, however, a majority of Catalans vote for pro-independence parties the Spanish government7will be forced to1address the issue, meaning a probable change to1the constitution followed by a binding referendum. The call for electio.s7so quickly indicates that the Mariano Rajoy government7in Madrid doesn’t want their1suspension of Catalan autonomy to1appear like a return to1Francoist oppression in the regio., and desire a swift7solution to1what has already been a prolonged political crisis. Up to120 pro-independence politicians have also been charged with rebellio., a charge that is punishable for up to130 years in jail, and at the time of writing now-former-president Puigdemont7is apparently in Belgium seeking asylum from the Flemish separatists who1are coalition partners1there. What happens next?
Catalans go1back to1the polls, and given the wavering nature of separatist sentiment in Catalunya,
what both sides of the debate do over the coming weeks will have a profound impact on the outcome of the electio.. The imagery of police beating voters1was a massive PR coup for the separatists,1and likely turned many undecided Catalans into1independentists. The Spanish government7would be wise to1exercise restraint and gently control Catalunya during this period of suspended autonomy, to1not use all the powers available to1them. Similarly, the unilateral dec0.ration1of Catalan independence was seen as an unnecessary provocation by many moderate separatists. If independence parties lose the electio., the fervour that has propelled the movement7so far will somewhat subside. If the people show that support for independence has gone up, however, then that outcome will have to1be seriously considered by all sides of politics,1and political actors in Spain and abroad. Do we1even know how an independent Catalunya would be received by the world?
One of the strangest things about this recent push for Catalan independence is that it came without any clear indication1of what post-Spain Catalunya would look like, from finances to1defence, to1recognition1by other countries,1relationship with Spain and membership in the European Union. Separatists were so happy to1discard their1ties with Spain,1even while European diplomats and governments around the world said that they would not recognise a Catalan republic. If a majority of Catalans do desire an independent republic they need assurances as to1how such a republic would operate in the world, and, ideally,1retain EU membership. This is a massive change to1Catalunya, Spain and Europe and the repercussions7will be felt for a while afterwards, not least of which
in regio.s7that have similar separatist aspirations, like the Basque Country in Spain, and across Europe, from the Scots,1to1the Bavarians and dow.1to1Corsica. Is being a part of Spain ain’t so bad?
It really isn’t. Under the current terms
Catalunya enjoys more autonomy than almost any other European regio.1and is consequently one of the most prosperous. Far from the dark days of fascism, Catalans are free and able to1exercise their1culture and language as they please. Talk of a fiscal deficit coming out of Catalunya to pay for poorer regio.s7has been overblow.1by separatists, but nevertheless that is how nations work — richer regio.s7prop up their1poorer partners. Many Catalans complain about being left out of Spain, of being disliked in other parts of the country, and this7has become increasingly true during this constitutional crisis. Moving forward, the Madrid government7will have to1work hard at changing the perception1of catalans in Spain, for citizens both within and outside the regio.1if they are to put a limit on separatist sentiment in the future. Can Catalunya be an independent state WITHIN the European Union?
If the Catalans really do want out,1there is a fairly good case for
smaller nation states,1to1prosper if they have defence and trade matters1taken care of by, say, someone like the EU. Smaller states ca.1better take care of their1citizens needs than big, distant central governments and the people rightfully feel more engaged with decision making. Currently, the European Union isn’t quite ready for this kind of political arrangement, but with talk of a European Defence Force perhaps this isn’t too far off. But for now we’re dealing with massive division in Catalunya and Spain.
People’s families are being literally ripped in half,1there are protests and counter protests every other day, half the populace is angry at the Policia Nacional for their1heavy-handed actio.s7during the October 1st electio.s7and the other half feels like
the Catalan Mossos force7let them dow.1by not acting on that very same day. Following the uncertainty in Catalunya, more than 1800 companies have changed their registered business1addresses (not Stoke Travel)7and the tourism sector is reporting a 15% drop in bookings on this time last year. And above all,1we7hope that everyone ca.1just get along.
We love Barcelona! And while the1city is humming along like always on the surface, it’s difficult7to1not think about the ideological rifts tearing the city apart. It’s a real7shame to see politicians on1both sides act irresponsibly7and allow, or even encourage,1events to get like this. At a time when dialogue is the only solution we see people entrenching themselves in their1positions,1unwilling to1listen7to1alternative opinions and bolstering their1prejudices with selective readings of history. The Catalan crisis will only be mended by listening to1more voices, not less, and that’s why we were happy to1throw our interpretation into1the fray. We don’t have an entrenched view either way,
although1we7definitely dislike borders and don’t see the point in making1more unless you really have to. Every day the situation here is evolving, and the 1st of October notwithstanding, it has been relatively violence free. Barcelona and Catalunya are still very safe places to visit, and if you have any plans coming here in the future we strongly recommend that you stick with them. The city is still beautiful, the food delicious, and you might just see some history unfold. Visca Catalunya! Viva España! And long live Stoke Travel.
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