In recent months the Spanish region of Catalonia has dominated the international media. Catalonia has voted to declare independence from the Spanish government, which has sparked intense and sometimes violent opposition from Spain. This referendum may have only occurred recently, but the movement has been in the making for years. Let’s take a look at the history of this region and conflict and how it got to the point we are at today.
Catalonia is a small region in the northeast border of Spain and France. The region is home to the city of Barcelona and has a long history as one of the wealthiest regions in the nation. While Catalonia only makes up about 6.3% of the country’s landmass and 16% of the population, its economy makes up for nearly 30% of total inward investment into Spain, 25% of the nation’s exports, and 23.8% of the nation’s foreign tourism, according to statistics provided by The Guardian sourced from INE, Idescat, and FT. The region’s economic importance to the region is one of the main issues in the independence movement. While making up one-fifth of the national economy, the region says it pays roughly 10 billion euros ($12 million) more in taxes to the national government than it receives back, versus Andalusia, the nation’s poorest region, that receives almost 8 billion euros more back than it pays.
The independence is not only based on economic issues, though. The region has a distinctly different culture from the rest of Spain and in some cases is more similar to French culture. One of the biggest differences and cultural barriers between the region and the rest of Spain is the language of Catalan. The region has its own unique language of Catalan that has been routinely repressed by the national government of Spain in an attempt to forcibly assimilate the region. While it has been put down by the Spanish government, it has become popular in the independence movement and is being used in education, local politics, and business in spite of Spanish crackdown.
Catalonia has a long history of nationalism and a strong sense of independence. One of the major events in the history of the Catalan independence movement was the fall of Barcelona to General Francisco Franco in 1939. The ultra-conservative forces under Franco brought about a harsh dictatorship that stripped Catalonia of much of its culture and heritage. Since then the movement has been alive, but small until recent years. Corruption scandals throughout the Spanish government and economic decline have brought about calls for independence from many Catalan officials and the local populace. In 2010, the Spanish parliament voted to revoke much of Catalan’s autonomy established in their constitution. This move threw gasoline on the fire of the Catalan independence movement and caused the vote we saw recently for independence.
The vote was successful and Catalan voted for independence while the Spanish government used violent repression through the police to try and keep voters home. In the wake of the vote Catalan officials fled to Belgium to avoid Spanish retaliation. Today the Catalan officials are seeking refuge in Belgium while Spain threatens harsh measures to ensure it maintains control over the region. Independence could bring about a massive increase economically in Catalan or it could bring about a economic collapse if the government proves unready to run its own state or they fail to achieve international recognition. The only thing for certain right now is that the unrest is becoming increasingly violent and destabilizing the Spanish region and economy.