Sant Michel de Cuxa in Cat­alonia. Dave Stewart | Courtesy

Prime Min­ister Mariano Rajoy of Spain has set Dec. 21 as the date for new elec­tions in Cat­alonia after the Catalan Par­liament declared inde­pen­dence on Oct. 27. 

After Cat­alonia declared inde­pen­dence, chaos erupted. Catalan Pres­ident Carles Puigdemont left for Brussels before he could be arrested and charged with acts of rebellion and sedition. The Spanish gov­ernment took away Catalonia’s autonomy and tried to enforce Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution. 

Now Rajoy hopes to have a turnover in Catalan public offices with new elec­tions. To under­stand the recent movement for inde­pen­dence in Cat­alonia, it is essential to know a little history about the autonomous state. The Catalan region of Spain has been dif­ferent and somewhat inde­pendent from the rest of Spain because it ran its own economy, spoke its own lan­guage, and held to Catalan tra­di­tions for almost 1000 years. 

But during General Fran­cisco Franco’s dic­ta­torship from 1939 – 1975, the Catalan state was sup­pressed. It wasn’t until the Spanish Civil war and the 1978 Spanish Con­sti­tution that Cat­alonia regained its autonomy. Since then Cat­alonia has become even prouder of its sep­arate identity and traditions.

Cat­alonia con­tinued its growth as an autonomous state and became very pros­perous. It now con­tributes about 25 percent of Spain’s GDP and has the wealthiest economy among Spanish states.

With a healthy economy, proud her­itage, and lan­guage, a movement for inde­pen­dence arose in Catalonia.

Irati Bilbao, a 28-year-old doctor from Bilbao, Spain, said she believes that the movement for inde­pen­dence orig­i­nated mainly from a few liberal leaders in Cat­alonian government.

“The problem with this is that in Cat­alonia there has emerged a lib­er­alist movement that believes that they can be a free state outside of Spain that, to date, is not legal since the con­sti­tution does not con­tem­plate it,” Bilbao said.

Scott Musser, an American who lives in a small town outside of Madrid, agrees that the inde­pen­dence movement is driven largely by radical Catalan leaders.

“Less than half of the Catalans want inde­pen­dence from Spain, and I would estimate that less than 5 percent of those outside of the region want them to be inde­pendent as well…Unfortunately, the few radical leaders of the Catalan Par­liament are the ones driving the train,” Musser said.

But Cat­alonia still held a vote for inde­pen­dence on Oct. 1 and Spanish police were sent in to stop the vote. The police vio­lence caused a stir throughout Spain and the EU and caused people on both sides of the inde­pen­dence issue to react strongly.

Bilbao was con­cerned that the police vio­lence during the vote actually strengthened the inde­pen­dence movement.

“Also after the fights and blows that the Spanish police dis­tributed to the people, the Catalans have become very angry and people who before would have voted no [to inde­pen­dence] now they say yes,” Bilbao said.

After the illegal vote there was con­sid­erable oppo­sition to the inde­pen­dence movement by other Catalans and people outside of the Catalan region as about 1 million people marched in Barcelona on Oct. 8 to protest the vote and promote unity and peace.

“Spain as a whole, rec­og­nizes that Cat­alonia is good for Spain, and Spain is good for Cat­alonia,” Musser said. “Way more turned out to promote peace and unity than did those who wanted independence.”

Cat­alonia is in vio­lation of the Spanish Con­sti­tution, and according to article 155, pre­ven­tative mea­sures can be taken to keep Cat­alonia from breaking with Spain. Article 155 has never been enforced but it gives the Spanish Gov­ernment license to take any nec­essary mea­sures to keep com­mu­nities unified under the Spanish Government.

After the Oct.1 vote, the Spanish gov­ernment gave Pres­ident Puigdemont the oppor­tunity to retract the unof­ficial dec­la­ration of inde­pen­dence before they enacted article 155 and took over Catalonia.

Instead, on Oct. 27, Pres­ident Puigdemont called for a vote in the Catalan Par­liament and the vote was in favor of inde­pen­dence. So inde­pen­dence was offi­cially declared.

The Spanish gov­ernment quickly swooped in and took over Cat­alonia, taking away its autonomy, and charging many of its leaders with criminal acts of rebellion, sedition, and misuse of public funds.

Puigdemont dis­ap­peared to Brussels, claiming he was going to muster European support, but Madrid issued an EU-wide warrant to send Puigdemont back to be tried.

Rajoy has called for snap Catalan elec­tions to be held on Dec. 21. Puigdemont and other pro-inde­pen­dence leaders have not been banned from running, which means there is a pos­si­bility of them being able to take the majority of par­liament seats again and strengthen the inde­pen­dence movement more than ever. 

But if the December elec­tions are won by the inde­pen­dence movement there would most likely just be a repeat of the current chaos. The Spanish Gov­ernment is not going to let Cat­alonia simply leave, espe­cially when there is sig­nif­icant support for unification. 

Leaving Spain would be a foolish decision for Cat­alonia since it would also be leaving the EU. Cat­alonia had a strong economy until the movement for inde­pen­dence. About 7,000 busi­nesses and banks are con­sid­ering moving out of Cat­alonia if it becomes inde­pendent. For many inter­na­tional busi­nesses it would be too risky to be located in a newly inde­pendent country sep­a­rated from the EU. If Cat­alonia could sep­arate from Spain, the economy could weaken.

But the Dec. 21 elec­tions will be the next step in deter­mining the strength and pos­si­bility of an inde­pendent Cat­alonia. If the current pro-inde­pen­dence leaders are not banned from the election there is still a chance that the inde­pen­dence movement could move forward until Cat­alonia is sep­a­rated from Spain. 

“The truth is that we are all expectant and waiting to see what happens, but we have to solve it quickly,” Bilbao said.


Abby Liebing is a sophomore studying history.