The Independence Movement in Catalonia: Is It Worth It?

Democracy

 

Tucked in the east of Spain, Catalonia has made great strides in recent years toward long-sought independence. Since 1714, Catalonia has struggled to maintain its own culture, language, and territory. During the War of Spanish Succession, specifically on September 11, 1714, Catalonia’s capital Barcelona fell in the hands of the Bourbon troops (under the Duke of Berwick). Since then, Catalans have been trapped. In fact, since the Second Century, Romans, Arabs, and French empires have conquered the Catalan territory. It is a territory very diminished by the continued domination by different empires and civilizations throughout its history. 

 

Catalan territory suffered and survived Francisco Franco’s brutality in the decades after the Civil War. Franco, a commander in the Spanish Civil War who would then become a long-serving dictator of Spain, suppressed the Catalan culture imposing Spanish culture above all the multicultural territories in Spain. In this period, there was Franco’s dictatorship, which complemented the suppression of democratic freedoms and repression of Catalan culture. This period lasted until Franco’s death in 1975.  

 

From the inside, pro-independence Catalans see the movement with one clear vision: “the time has come for the Catalans.” It demonstrates this vision through the 9-N movement, a referendum on independence for Catalonia taking place November 9, 2014. The choice is whether Catalonia ought to be a region of Spain or its own independent state. The proposal of a split has been presented multiple times since 1979 with former President Jordi Pujol’s government, the CIU (Convergencia I Unió) leader. In fact, Jordi Pujol is known as the father of this independence process. 

 

 

The Vote

This Referendum has two main questions: 

 

Do you want Catalonia to become a State? – In case of an affirmative answer, how autonomous would you like this new state to be?

 

With this query, Catalan people hope to choose what sort of state they want to live in. That’s the main idea - the people’s choice. But the nation’s history remains complicated. 

 

For many outside observers, one of the most remarkable things about this year’s Catalan referendum is the way Catalan are handling the issue. Although there are many different opinions and a multitude of essays on Catalan independence, no one in Catalonia seems to have any doubt that the best way of deciding the issue is to let  people of Catalonia decide. 

 

A large majority of Catalans wants to decide their future democratically. But so far, the Spanish Government has opposed this. As of now, the Constitutional Court is calling for the suspension of this referendum (Alternative Consultation of 9N) and also wants the judges to speak out, warning the president of the Generalitat de Catalunya, Artur Mas. The Spanish government wants to block the referendum because they think that this decision ought to involve all Spanish people, not only the Catalans. The Spanish government still says that it will not let Catalans vote. They don’t want us to have the referendum in any case, and Catalans are trying to solidifiy the right to vote in any way possible. 

 

On November 3, the Catalan government presented to the Constitutional court a brief asking the high court not to admit the appeal process of the central government against the alternative query of November 9. This is why there have been so many peaceful protests in Catalonia - the people want the possibility to vote. Nothing has been the same since 2012 when Catalan people took to the streets in Barcelona on Catalonia’s national day (September 11) to demand the referendum. Yet, Spain is holding strong against the referendum.  

 

Within the Catalan parliament there are many opinions and thoughts about this referendum, highlighting the inherent diversity in the “Parlament de Catalunya.” But even if there is a diversity of opinions in the Parliament, there is a consensus between the most important parties as CIU (Convergencia I Unió), ERC (Esquerra Rebublicana de Catalunya, ICV (Iniciativa per Catalunya els Verds), and CUP (Candidatiura de Unitat Popular) to conduct referendum at all costs. In fact, the leader of Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, a left leaning pro-independence party, Oriol Junqueras has reminded other politicians, and especially the socialists, that they don’t have to be separatists to vote on 9-N, they simply have to be Catalans. 

 

 

Catalan Culture Abides

Living here has made me realize that this independence process is incredibly convoluted. But above all, it is a difficult issue to address in our daily lives, because it is an issue that governs our lifestyle, our ways of acting and our moods. Not only independence itself, but the Catalan people as they are deeply involved daily in the process and in maintaining Catalan’s cultural history. Citizens have used aspects of the regions cultural history as acts of protest; such as  the castles—called castellers—or human towers in favor of independence throughout Europe or the “Via Catalana” on September 11, 2013. 

 

These human towers stand as a symbol of Catalonia and its culture. It shows our strength against the Spanish repression. In fact, human towers have been erected across Europe, showing Catalan customs to the world. In addition to human towers, we have seen the Via Catalana, a human chain throughout Catalonia in favor of the independence. In fact, in 2013 the human chain for secession achieved mass support. Furthermore, the goal with this event was to exhibit its strength to speed up the query, and that’s why now we can be able to have the referendum on November 9. 

 

In a democratic country, one right prevails over the others: the right to decide. It’s true, a democracy is founded on this basic right. But how has history been constructed? Conflicts? Wars? Does this history mean that Catalonia should be a different part of Spain or Spain’s history? The so called right to decide often leads to a trap, because some decisions are not precisely right or fair—it’s only a matter of repeating history. All Catalans are asking this November 9 is to decide the fate of their own territory through democratic means.

 

 

Catalonia, Spain

Elisabeth Vilà

Elisabeth Vilà is a sociologist and media specialist with diverse experience across humanitarian, development and communications. She is a Master's student of the Faculty of Communication and International Relations of the University Ramon Llull (Blanquerna) and has a B.A. in sociology from the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB).