By Gabriel Perez
(TEANECK) – On Sept. 11, the National Day of Catalonia, about 540,000 people rallied in Barcelona for a referendum for Catalonia’s independence from Spain, according to the BBC.
Catalonia is a region that in many ways feels very different to the rest of Spain. They were a separate state from Spain until the Spanish unification in 1492, and have a regional language known as Catalan that they speak as a way of holding a sense of identity, according to the Washington Post.
Rallies for independence have been happening more often in recent years due to the dire economic situation in Spain, where according to EU surveys, 20 percent of the general population is unemployed and youth unemployment is at a steep 45.5 percent.
Catalan separatists said that their region, which is considered affluent despite unemployment rates of 17.49 percent, according to 2015 EU data, gives plenty to Spain and receives little for it.
What the Catalan government is looking for is the permission to do what Scotland was able to do back in 2014, when David Cameron allowed Scotland to hold a referendum on its independence. In many ways, the Catalans liken their movement to the Scottish call for independence.
Raül Romeva, the unofficial foreign minister of Catalonia, is one of the loudest voices in the Catalan independence movement.
In an interview with The Guardian, he said that he would support a “Scottish-type scenario, where we could negotiate with the state and hold a coordinated and democratic referendum,” he said.
In that same interview, Romeva also mentioned that the Spanish Government’s reluctance to allow a referendum on Catalan independence would not be wise.
“Every action they take serves only to rearm us and give us greater legitimacy for what we’re doing,” Romeva said.
El País reported in July that 48 percent of Catalans support the separatist movement, making them a plurality, but not a majority within the region.
The current prime minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, opposes the separatist movement, praising the decision of the Spanish constitutional court to strike down legislation in Catalonia that would have started the process for secession.
“This makes the majority of Spaniards who believe in Spain, in national sovereignty and in the equality of all very happy,” he said in an interview with The Guardian.
Another voice of opposition is Jaime Domínguez Buj, the Spanish army’s chief of staff who compared events in Catalonia to Spain’s situation at the end of the Spanish-American War, according to the Washington Post.
“When the metropolis is weak, the collapse happens,” Buj said in an interview with Público.
A spokesman from the Partido Popular (Popular Party) criticized Buj as “difficult to understand,” according to the Washington Post.
Not everyone within the Spanish government is in agreement with the idea that Catalonia should not be allowed to have a referendum. Pablo Iglesias, leader of the far-left party Podemos (“We can” in English), has stated his support for a referendum on Catalan independence, promising to grant the “right to decide,” although he wants to see Catalonia stay within Spain, according to Al Jazeera.
Catalonia accounts for 20 percent of Spanish GDP and 25 percent of Spain’s exports according to Politico.
A succession could potentially devastate the Spanish economy and make a noticeable dent in the world economy as well, according to Yale Economic Review.
The region head, Charles Puigdemont, said on Sept. 28 that Catalonia would hold a referendum on independence from Spain next year whether or not the central government in Madrid agrees to one.
“If by July there has been no positive response [from the central government,] we will be prepared to climb the last step and call a referendum for the second fortnight of September next year,” he said.
Puigdemont’s government held a vote of confidence on Sept. 29 to test whether he still has the support of an anti-capitalist party, which had rejected an annual budget bill in June. He won by 72 votes to 63 in the 135-seat regional parliament.
Puigdemont received the support of his own Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes) coalition, as well as that of the anti-capitalist Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), according to the Irish Times.