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Behind the headlines: an in-depth analysis of international affairs

Secession in Spain

By Wilson Alexander | Echo 

The 2016 Legislature of the Government of Catalonia took office on January 14. Carles Puigdemont is president of the Generalitat, (first row, center), and Oriol Junqueras is vice president (on his left) (photo provided by Generalitat de Catalunya).

The 2016 Legislature of the Government of Catalonia took office on January 14. Carles Puigdemont is president of the Generalitat, (first row, center), and Oriol Junqueras is vice president (on his left) (photo provided by Generalitat de Catalunya).

Virtually every country on the planet can be divided into different regions based on geography, language or ethnicity, but in some countries the differences between these areas is more pronounced than in others.

Spain is one such nation. Each of the Spanish “Autonomias,” or “provinces,” such as Andalusia, in the south, Galicia, north of Portugal, Basque Country, on the French border and Catalonia, on the east coast, have different accents, histories, customs and, sometimes, languages.

This regionalism has caused difficulties for the central government in Madrid, especially with respect to Catalonia, which two years ago carried out a referendum on whether or not the region should leave Spain.

According to the Spanish Newspaper ABC, Catalonia was formed gradually in the the 8th and 9th centuries, while the majority of the Iberian Peninsula was conquered by Muslims from North Africa. Until 1150, it existed as an independent entity, similar to other small kingdoms in Spain, according to Jose Maria, a professor of history in Seville, Spain. During that year, the region joined Aragon, another kingdom in the Iberian Peninsula, Spanish newspaper El Heraldo reports.

With the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella in 1469, the kingdom of Aragon was united with Castile, another domain in central part of the Iberian Peninsula, to form the backbone of modern Spain, according to el Periodico de Aragon. Nevertheless, some regions clung to their customs and languages. Catalonia was one of these regions, and in the 19th century, Catalan nationalism began to grow, according to Maria.

From 1939–75, Spain was controlled by dictator Francisco Franco, and all expressions of regional identity—the Catalan language, for example—were outlawed, but after his death and the reintroduction of democracy to the country, Catalan nationalism returned.

In the last few years, the Catalonian fight for independence reached a fever pitch. On Sep. 11, 2012, roughly 750,000 people supported by the Catalonian government filled the streets of Barcelona, calling for Catalonian independence, according to 20 Minutos.

In early 2013, the Catalonian Government adopted a Resolution of Independence that was suspended by the Constitutional Court (the Spanish equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court). But support for independence continued to increase. The regional government, led by President Artur Mas, began to explore the possibility of secession and recommended a referendum where the people would be able to voice their opinions on the question of independence.

Nov. 11, 2016 was the designated day for the referendum, but the Constitutional Court shut down the vote. After a legal battle, Catalan authorities decided to hold the referendum anyway. Despite the fact that it was technically illegal, 80 percent of the population opted for independence, and President Mas called it a “success,” according to 20 Minutos.

The Madrid government was not happy with this result and filed charges against Mas and other Catalan leaders. The trial, which began in February 2017, was met with dissent in Catalonia but resulted in punishments for all those accused. Mas received the most severe punishment: two years of “inhabilitación,” meaning “inability to hold a public office,” and a fine of 36,000 euros, roughly $38,000.

In an attempt to placate the separatists, Mariano Rajoy, the current Spanish president, promised to invest almost four million euros in the region until 2025, El Mundo reports. However, it still unknown whether this is enough, especially considering the fact that Mas’ possible return to public office in two years could mean a rebirth of the independence movement.

But to what end? Jose Maria points out that Catalonia would gain little from separating from Spain, pointing out that the European Union would not allow an independent Catalonia to join for fear of encouraging other regions within EU countries to push for independence. He said “(Independence) would be the destruction of well-being in Catalonia” and that “they would pay a very high price for independence.”

The second decade of the 21st century has been marked by ruptures, both achieved and attempted—including the Scottish referendum on leaving the United Kingdom in 2014, the UK’s exit from the EU and the United States’ departure from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In the following years, we will see if Catalonia will be yet another chapter in an increasingly long book of global division.

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