If you spend any amount of time in Spain, particularly in its proud Catalan region , you will hear about the people’s fight for independence. But where did it start, should Catalan be independent and what does this mean for Spain?
Insider Kristjan is going to cover this subject in an in-depth series. In his second post, he covers the case for Catalan Independence.
For all but the last 300 years and for well over a millennium, Catalonia has existed as a distinct social and political entity within the broader European context. Its status as an independent state was terminated in 1714 by an act of war, not an expression of free will of the Catalan people.
In the early middle-ages, Catalonia forged important political, military and cultural ties with other parts of Europe while the rest of Spain fell under Muslim rule. This division reinforced important social and cultural distinctions, including attitudes toward work, savings, law, language and social congruity with other parts of Europe.
Catalan society never embraced absolutism as a political model. Governing with the consent of the people is a long Catalan tradition. The current push for independence is just another example of their zeal for self-governance.
If any single reality delineates the difference between Catalonia and the rest of Spain, it is surely the Catalan language. Like Spanish, French, Italian, and a host of other languages, Catalan pertains to the broader Romance family of languages derived from ancient Latin. The similarities end there. Catalan encompasses a notable content of Occitan, the native tongue of southern France, which is now all but extinct. Unlike Castillian Spanish, it has fewer words derived from Arabic. Dialects of the language are widely spoken by over nine million persons in other parts of Spain’s Mediterranean territories as well as parts of southern France. Catalans identify themselves fully with their language, which the 40 years of suppression under the Franco dictatorship was unable to diminish. Despite this inextricable link between the people of Catalonia and their native tongue, the central government in Madrid continues to meddle in the linguistic policies of the region, notably classroom instruction at public schools.
Catalonia is Spain’s richest territory, representing 16% of the population but producing roughly 21% of GDP and contributes almost 25% of tax revenues to Spain’s treasury. However, tax revenue sharing formulas return to Catalan only a fraction of what is collected. Their ongoing annual deficit represents a costly reminder to hard working Catalan citizens that fairness and equality have never been the hallmark of the region’s relationship with Madrid. This hard reality has been especially painful during the current prolonged economic crisis.
While Spain has a democratic form of government known as a Parliamentary Monarchy, the monarch as Head-of-State is not freely elected by the people, and therefore inherently anti-democratic. This institution, also viewed by many as archaic and wasteful, is squarely at odds with the traditions and culture of Catalan society.
Many Catalans believe they should be in possession of the liberty to freely determine their own future. The legal basis to hold a referendum on the question of independence emanates from the will of the Catalan people themselves, democratically expressed in free and fair voting, hence transcending any statutory restrictions imposed by the government of Madrid. In the final analysis, all Catalan people ask is for the right to decide for themselves, democratically, whether or not they wish to continue forming part of Spain. Letting the people decide their own fate is the foundation of democratic existence. Yet, this basic tenet of civilization has been stonewalled by the government of Madrid, which refuses to discuss the terms and conditions of any proposed referendum. As such, Catalan political leaders have no choice but to lead the way forward, democratically and peacefully, on their own accord. The referendum is now slated for late September 2017.
Watch the Spain blog for more from Insiders, including the next post from Kristjan on “The Case Against Catalan Independence”. For more of his expertise on Spain, read his book “The Reign in Spain – Fall & Rise of the Spanish Monarchy” (https://www.amazon.com/Reign-Spain-Fall-Spanish...).