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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.