- Rohan Chakraborty
Over the past few days, the political tumult surrounding Catalonian independence has finally reached boiling point. Rioters are beginning to face police batons and rubber bullets, whereas Barcelonan hospitals are gradually filling up with injured riot officers. At the centre of the chaos, there’s the Spanish Prime Minister Sanchez, who can’t even enter hospitals for the freedom protestors and doctors blocking his way.
Why is Catalonia so insistent on its independence? It becomes very clear, upon visiting, the huge differences that have set Catalonia and Spain apart. For a start, they speak a different language: Catalan, a language which many Catalonians would argue barely receives the recognition it deserves. It also houses a unique culture, rejecting typical Spanish traditions such as bullfighting, which though is popular in other regions, appeals to few Catalonians , resulting in a ban of the brutal sport in the region.
You can even see the differences from an economic perspective. Most critically, by the amount they have suffered at the hands of notorious Spanish debts. It has made the prospect of leaving Spain near impossible, but it is nevertheless a critical move. Catalonia has to sit back as over 17 billion of the region’s euros are funnelled towards the central Madrid government, where it is then dispersed across the poorer parts of Spain.
It could be argued that this is the greater responsibility of a richer region like Catalonia. The region makes up approximately 20% of the country’s GDP with only 16% of its population, so one may assume they are obliged to help sustain the country as a whole. However, the huge tax demands contrast with their lack of fiscal autonomy. It’s ludicrous to think that other regions are able to enjoy this benefit (e.g. Basque), and then Catalonia to be deprived from making key decisions on their economy. Considering these facts, it appears only just that the Catalonians revoke their participation in a system that drains so much from them as an economy yet cannot at least provide them with the self-governance of economic policy.
The struggle for Catalonian independence has not emerged recently, but has long been a heated discussion in Spanish politics. Losing all their governing powers and constitution in European wars, they spent decades protesting for independence until Francesc Macia founded Estat Catala (Catalan State) in 1922. Macia led them to independence as the ‘Catalan Republic’ in 1931, but by the end of the Spanish Civil War, General Franco returned them back to square one: protesting with no autonomy.
Is this exploitation fair? Hopefully this had made evident why the protests filling the streets of Barcelona are something of a necessity in Spain’s political climate. However, this has not stopped the disproportionately unfair treatment that Catalonia’s voice is still being given in this pivotal debate. Recently, nine Catalonian political figures advocating for independence have been jailed under sentences such as ‘misusing public funds’ or ‘disobedience’, with Catalonian ex-president being hunted with an international arrest warrant. The Spanish supreme court reasoned this was surrounding their ‘disobedient’ attempt of secession with the 2017 Declaration of Independence voted for by a majority of Catalonian MPs.
However, this can hardly be classed as ‘disobedience’ when the Spanish government have failed to obey to their agreements with Catalonia. Back in 2006, they had agreed to a referendum vote for Catalonia to create a Statute of Autonomy, which resulted in success. Despite this approval, in 2010, the Constitutional Court of Spain decided the articles within the statute were ‘unconstitutional’, reversing the previous efforts of Catalonian separatists completely. And yet Pedro Sanchez’s government gave support for the sentencings, approving that they met the requirements of transparency-whilst lacking the transparency to give Catalonia a fair right for democracy.
As we can observe, there is clearly a fear in the Spanish government of losing its almost parasitic connection with Catalonia despite their cultural, political and economic disparities that are quickly being realised. Quite frankly, they are committing travesties to repress parliamentary figureheads of a popular political movement and deprive them from taking public office. However, the biggest crime of the Spanish government is to ignore a movement representing the sentiments of an entire region. Without their public confrontation of this issue, there will no longer be an independent voice to represent the Catalonian people in Spain. And with that, what was once democracy could begin to crumble.