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Roots of the Catalan Crisis

‘Som una nació. Nosaltres decidim.’

(We are a nation. We decide.)

Catalonia is a region in limbo. Since the semi-autonomous province in north-west Spain held an illegitimate independence referendum in 2017, the population of 7.5 million has been in the dark, wondering what the Spanish government will decide for their long-term future. Unsurprisingly, the crisis has permeated into 2018 as the lasting effects of this messy affair are still being handled.

The importance of Catalonia to the Spanish state is paramount; it is one of their richest and most prosperous regions. Many Catalonians have felt that they have been propping up the Spanish economy since the 2008 banking crisis, subsidising large portions of the country with their taxes and receiving little in return for their troubles.

Of course, like many contemporary issues that face the world today, the drive behind the independence struggle is rooted in history. Catalonia has a distinct past and vibrant identity that makes them culturally distinct from other parts of Spain. This can be traced all the way back to the 12th century when Ramon Berenguer IV, Count of Barcelona, married Queen Petronilla of Aragon, bringing the region under the dominion of the Aragonian crown. This incorporation continued into the 15th century with the union of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, uniting the two kingdoms as one. Catalonia had become just one part of a wider Spanish kingdom.

Despite this, Catalonians have been able to retain their unique culture. Not only do they have their own language, but they also have a separate flag and anthem. Much of this culture was stifled under the rule of General Franco, but Catalonia was able to gain semi-autonomy in 1978, three years after his death. A renewed push for separatism came in 2010 when calls for the recognition of Catalonia as a separate nation within Spain were blocked by courts in Madrid.

According to their constitution, Spain is inseparable. The Spanish government worked indefatigably to quell calls for secession by curbing the spread of pro-independence propaganda; websites were shut down, voting stations were blocked off and protesters were beaten for demonstrating. Even King Felipe heavily backed the pro-unity cause, coming down heavily on the Catalonian government for the resultant demonstrations.

When the Catalonians went to the ballot boxes on October 1st 2017, they voted 92.01% in favour of splitting from Spain. However, support for independence in Catalonia is not as unilateral as many politicians and media outlets would have people believe. Boycotts were called for by the pro-Madrid parties and with only a 43.03% turnout for the referendum, many have questioned the legitimacy of the proceedings.

Catalonians certainly have a divergent culture, but indisputably hold a triple identity; they are Catalonian, Spanish and European. The pro-independence government still has a long way to go before there is any realistic chance for the creation of their own state, but they have a duty to represent the entirety of the Catalonian population before starting a legitimate dialogue with Madrid over the future of the region.