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Catalonia’s Pursuit of Independence
“No podem ser si no podem ser lliures.” This quote from Catalan poet Salvador Espriu roughly translates to “We cannot be if we can’t be free” a statement that rings true for over half of Catalonia’s 7.5 million residents. The people of Catalonia have long been in a struggle with Spain to gain independence and feel that they should be their own nation. Recently the separatist views in Catalonia have come to the forefront of national news as the state makes a push to secede but there are those who question the likelihood and feasibility of this move. If the people of Catalonia achieve what they desire, Spain will lose one of its most well known states as well as one that provides a great amount of economic stability, but if they do not they will continue to fight for independence and their struggle could turn violent. The struggle for independence dates back to the 19th century during the Romantic age when nationalism surged. Catalan separatist feel they have multiple reasons to secede from Spain but the main reasons are that they have their own culture, history, and language; have experienced a history of persecution as a result of Spanish rule; and that they are responsible for a large majority of Spain’s economic success.
Catalonia is one of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions, each region having its own executive, legislative, and judicial branch. It is located in the northern part of Spain on the border of France and is divided into a few different regions: Barcelona, Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona. According to a census performed in 2012 the population is roughly 7.5 million accounting for just over 16% of Spain’s total population. The city of Barcelona is the regions capital and is also the second largest city in Spain with a population of about 1.63 million (Generalitat de Catalunya). Catalonia has its own history, separate from the rest of Spain, rich with culture and tradition. They also speak a language different than is spoken in the rest of Spain known as Catalan. Catalan is not a dialect of Spanish but rather a language that was developed on its own with Latin origins and is recognized as one of the four official languages in Spain. 93.8% of citizens living in Catalonia can understand Catalan (Generalitat de Catalunya) and around 9 million people worldwide speak the language. There are laws in place within Catalonia in order to preserve the language and makes sure it lives on. Some examples of such laws are that all businesses must display their material in Catalan or risk being fined, doctors are required to speak and understand Catalan, and there are quotas in place to regulate Catalan media (Miley). While it is true that 98.8% of Catalan’s understand spanish, children in public schools must be taught in Catalan and can only receive a maximum of three hours per week in spanish training (Govan). This is because the people of Catalan have realized that for their language to survive the test of time it must be heavily involved in education of the youth. Catalan’s feel that their own language and culture deserve to be recognized by national borders and wish to govern the land as they see fit.
Catalan’s rich history and culture has not always been welcome in Spain and the rest of the European Union and the people of Catalan do not feel they receive the respect they deserve. There have been several distinct attacks on Catalan language throughout history but the most recent took place during the rule of General Francisco Franco between 1939 and 1975. Franco gained power over Barcelona following the Spanish Civil War with a goal of uniting Spain and removing those that attempted to differentiate themselves, including those that speak a different language. Throughout the time of his rule Catalan speakers and academics were persecuted and repressed. The autonomy that the Catalan’s had come to know was stripped away from them and Catalan nationalism was subdued. The Catalan language was banned from being used and was completely removed from the educational system. Along with this all remnants of the language were sought out and changed including media and street names. There was also a wave attacks on nationalist resulting in several thousand being killed or exiled. This persecution continued until Franco’s death in 1975 but the legacy of his rule has not been forgotten.
Following the death of Franco in 1975 a new ruler took the throne, King Juan Carlos. Carlos was a fair ruler to the people of Spain and pushed to democratize the country. In 1978 the Spanish constitution was written and in it Catalan was officially recognized as the official language of Catalonia (Barcelona’s Languages). To this day the people of Catalonia cherish this victory as it represents the fortitude of the Catalan people and their ability to stand up to oppression.
The people of Catalan, while happy to be recognised by Spain, feel they deserve more and wish to be an official language of the European Union. Catalan is a language similar in prevalence to Castilian Spanish, Swedish, and Czech (Mari 1). As expressed in the preceding paragraph, the Spanish government has neglected to serve or even defend the people of Catalonia in the past and many Catalan’s feel they must do so individually. There are many organizations throughout Catalonia whose mission it is to spread the language and culture on an international scale. One of these is the Consortium for Language Normalization, a program which aims to help foreigners that have recently moved to Catalonia learn the Language(Mari 2). The people of Catalonia have long been in a struggle to make their voices heard on a national and international level and believe they have not been fairly represented by Spanish rule.
The third and final reason Catalan’s wish to separate from Spain is that they are one of the wealthiest regions in Spain and believe they are not fairly compensated for the amount of money they generate for the country. Catalonia is known to be one of the wealthiest and advanced regions of Spain accounting for nearly thirty percent of Spanish exports and although its GDP per capita is slightly below average compared with other nations in the European Union, it is still about twenty percent higher than the rest of Spain (Alexopoulos). It is also estimated that Catalonia makes up for around twenty percent of Spain’s total GDP (Goodman), a contribution that would be sorely missed by the Spanish Government.
Catalonia’s most popular export locations are too surrounding countries in the EU including Portugal, Germany, France, and Italy. There is also a large amount of products that are imported to the rest of the country which would make Spain one of Catalonia’s main importers if they succeed in independence. In recent years, Catalonia has grown its export rate by more than Germany, France, and the Netherlands, and in the technology sector saw an increase in exports of about 9% (Wharton University of Pennsylvania). Catalonia also asserts that it pays more in taxes to the central government of Spain than it receives back in spending on infrastructure and its citizens. Those pushing for independence say that Catalonia would be better off in the long run if it kept the money that is currently being sent to the Central Government and instead spent it themselves and provide its people with the necessary social and security services. Furthermore, a study performed by the University of Edinburgh claims that independence could shift the competition for firms within Catalonia. If Catalonia were to become independent, firms would be protected from direct competition with Spain and those that would normally be pushed out of the market may be able to survive and thrive (Comerford). Although some experts believe an independent Catalonia is fiscally possible, there are many consequences that will be difficult to overcome for the people.
Currently, the central government of Spain located in Madrid is opposed to any sort of independence and claims that Catalonia already has more autonomy than most places in Europe. The region is the only one in Spain that operates its own police force and also has a reasonable amount of control over other factors such as culture, transportation, education, and health (Goodman). In recent years however the people of Catalonia have grown restless and are pushing harder and harder to gain independence. In 2006 the central government of Spain and the Catalan authorities agreed to transfer more power to the region, a move which was agreed upon by the Spanish National Parliament. In 2008, however, Spain entered an economic crisis during which many Catalan’s believe their wealth would be better served if it was only supporting the people of Catalonia and not the rest of Spain. In 2010 the constitutional court of Spain moved to strike dow key parts from the 2006 agreement stirring up the independence movement and causing over 1 million people to take to the streets of Barcelona in protest. This sparked pro-independence parties to win the regional elections. On November 9th, 2014 Catalonia held a referendum for independence, they later scrap the plan saying the vote was just an opportunity for Catalan’s voice their opinions regarding independence. Although less than half of all registered voters ended up casting ballots, more than 80 percent were in favor of secession which the national government dismissed as propaganda. In the fall of 2015 Catalonia’s pro-independence party won the majority of the regional seats and draft a pro-independence resolution. Later this same year, Spain’s constitutional court rules the resolution to be unconstitutional. In 2017 the fight for independence heats up as the national government bans the former Catalan president Artur Mas from holding any sort of public office, this coming two years after the 2014 vote. In June of 2017 Catalan President Carlos Puigdemont sets the date for a new independence vote stating that a new republic will be formed within 48 hours if a pro-independence vote wins regardless of voter turnout. One September 7th, about one month before the vote is set to happen, Spain’s constitutional court rejects the ballot following a challenge from the central government. Later that same month about a dozen Catalan leaders were arrested for organizing the referendum. Police also capture around 10 million ballot papers and the Constitutional Court of Spain tells Catalonia it will fine the electoral board daily for disobeying the court orders. On September 29th Spanish government pledges to block the referendum while Catalan leaders reaffirm their position to proceed forward with it. Protesters occupy schools to be used for voting while police tell them to either leave by the following morning, October 1st, day of the vote, or face the consequences. The following day, hundreds of people are injured as national police close in on polling locations but defiant Catalan voters still manage to cast their ballots. On October 3rd Spanish King, Felipe VI, accuse secessionists of tearing apart Spain but hours later Puigdemont responds claiming Catalonia will declare independence once all votes have been counted. Puigdemont does not make a formal declaration and instead enters into talks with Spanish central government. At this point Spain takes control of Catalonia and dissolves its political autonomy, firing the elected government and forcing an entirely new election. On October 27th Catalonia moves to declare independence from Spain in defiance of the central government. The move is seen as mostly symbolic as neither Spain or the international community is likely to view Catalonia as its own nation. Since the vote, Spain has taken complete control over Catalonia and has also arrested and jailed nine former Catalan separatists on charges of rebellion. It wasn’t until March 25th, 2018, however, that Puigdemont was arrested in Germany after an international warrant for his arrest was made. He will be charged with rebellion and sedition and embezzlement.
In my opinion, Catalan should remain a part of Spain not only as a benefit to the rest of Spain but as a benefit to the people of Catalonia themselves. The economic consequences of leaving Spain will tear Catalonia apart. The first reason for this is that Catalonia will lose its EU status as well as all the protections that come with it. The EU has already made it clear that it will not accept an independent Catalonia and if Catalonia wishes to continue trading with member other members of the EU they will face trade tariffs that are not currently present. Furthermore it is expected that businesses headquartered in the region would be forced to move since they would no longer be able to benefit from the policies of the EU. One such example is the EU has eliminated all import/export duties between its members. There are no trade barriers and workers are free to move around without restriction. These policies are in place to promote a unitary marketplace where capital is free to move between states (Moussis n.pag). All Catalan companies would automatically lose these freedoms and may would most likely choose to relocate.
Another economic consequence is trade with the rest of Spain. In other secessionist movements, such as Czech and the Slovak Republics or Slovenia and Croatia, it was noted that trade fell between the freshly separated nations by about 33 percent to 66 percent in the first few years after seperation (Alexopoulos). Catalan exports to the rest of Spain make up for nearly 36% of exports from Catalonia and if the past trend continues, which it has no reason not to considering the tension between the two, it can be expected that Catalonia will instantly lose a large segment of its export market.
If trade falls and businesses decide to leave, unemployment rates will skyrocket and people in the area will suffer one firm, Credit Suisse, estimates that secession would cause the Catalan GDP to fall by roughly 20 percent which would greatly reduce the per capita income (Alexopoulos). Although I understand the plight of the Catalan people who wish to have their culture respected, I believe there is room in Spain for multiple cultures to thrive and flourish. The central government of Spain does not wish to destroy the Catalan culture but rather to protect the people living in the region from making emotionally charged decisions without first weighing all of the negative consequences.
Catalonia is a region of Spain full of culture and tradition. They speak their own language, celebrate different holidays, and choose their own rulers. For many years throughout history Spanish rulers were not kind to the people of Catalonia attempting to suppress their culture in an attempt to create a unified Spain. What these rulers did not understand is that one of the reasons Spain is such a beautiful country is that it has such a diverse background. In recent years, however, this has not been the case and Catalonia has had political autonomy and freedom to practice their own traditions. For a large group of Catalans this freedom is simply not enough and they wish to become an independent nation. In the past few years the central government of Spain has blocked these moves citing the constitution and more recently has even taken away the political freedom Catalonia once had. While I understand the plight of the Catalan people who wish to have their culture respected by becoming its own nation, the decision is emotionally driven and the economic consequences would be to great for the nation to bear.
Generalitat de Catalunya. Catalonia. n.pag. Web. 21 February 2014 .
Miley, Dr. Thomas Jeffrey. “The Constitutional Politics of Language Policy in Catalonia, Spain.” Adalah’s Newsletter. October 2006. p 1-2. Web. 20 February 2014 .
“Barcelona’s Languages.” Barcelona.de. n.pag. Web. 21 October 2013
Mari, Bernat Joan I. “The Cornerstones of Language Policy in Catalonia.” Language Policy at the Government of Catalonia. p 1-2. Web. 20 February 2014 .
Alexopoulos, Yiagos, et al. “Catalonia’s Choice.” Credit Suisse. 19 November 2012. p 2-11. Web. 24 February 2014 .
Goodman, Al. “Catalans to Link Up in Human Chain Today in their Call for Secession.” CNN. 11 September 2013. n.pag. Web. 18 October 2013
Wharton University of Pennsylvania. Is Secession the Answer? The Case of Catalonia, Flanders and Scotland. 2 December 2013. n.pag. Web. 25 February 2014
Comerford, David, Nicholas Myers, and Jose V. Rodriguez Mora. “Measuring Costs and Benefits of Independence.” University of Edinburgh. 9 October 2012. p 15-20. Print.
Moussis, Nicholas. The EU Common Market. n.pag. Web. 27 February 2014
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