Catalonia’s Political Problems

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Recent years have seen a political fracture across the West. With the independence referendum in Scotland, the Brexit vote, the rise of Trump in America and the growing momentum of right wing reactionary groups across Europe, it appears that countries are moving inward rather than creating working coalitions. Spain is no different.

The residue of the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939, the following dictatorship and then eventual reform left Spain, like many of its European counterparts, a part of a union that aimed to keep peace, freedom of movement and trade. Recently, the turbulent and self-indulgent politics of the U.K. have distracted us from Spain’s underlying issues, for Spain is a country that perhaps has never fully recovered from the violence of the previous century.

Catalonia was famously Republican during the Civil War. The spirit and ardent support of the Catalans was immortalised by George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. The victory of Franco’s Nationalists, the decimation of socialism and the Pact of Forgetfulness explain the alienation felt in Catalonia, but Catalonia’s bid for independence existed for centuries before the Civil War. The question is how has this come to fruition in 2017?

Economic disparity is clearly an issue. Catalonia is quoted by the BBC as one of the richest regions of Spain, “Proud of its own identity and language, Catalonia is one of Spain’s richest and most highly industrialised regions, and also one of the most independent-minded”. With only 16% of Spain’s 46.5 million population, Catalonia contributes 19% of Spain’s GDP and a further 25% of its foreign exports. Tourism is also a key source of income for Spain and Barcelona is one of the most sought after destinations in Europe. Catalonia, therefore, is integral to the Spanish economy. However, other Spanish regions receive more government spending whilst Catalans pay more taxes. Again, according to the BBC, the Catalans paid £8.9 billion more in taxes than the central government’s public spending in the area. Nonetheless, Catalonia is still in debt to the Spanish government. Money has tied them to Madrid and the Catalans want their own economic determination.

Furthermore, Catalonia is culturally separate from Spain. Language has always been an essentially important means of unifying a country under one national banner. In Spain, the Catalan language remains. This barrier in language separates the Catalonian region from the rest. Its culture has seen the rise of artists such as Salvador Dali and Antoni Gaudi whose architecture has irreplaceably moulded the world’s view of the city of Barcelona. Following the Civil War, Franco’s fascist government suppressed culture, language and even Catalan names. However, Catalonia’s own identity, constitution and government have endured. Participation is key to legitimacy. This harks true of Brexit also.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy now enjoys direct rule over Catalonia due to Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution. It screams of 1984. As a result, Carles Puigdemont – the deposed Catalan president – is now residing in Belgium. He is essentially a political refugee. The establishment is against him as the European courts remain on side with Spain and there appears to be little resolution.

The dangerous rhetoric expressed by the Spanish government that they hope the Catalans have “learned a lesson” does not bode well for future relationships though. There is also great suspicion around the regional party which won the most seats in the recent election on 22nd December, the Ciudadanos (Citizen’s Party). It has been called “the Podemos of the right,” despite its seemingly liberal policies.

This is just another facet of the highly fractured political establishment that is cracking before our eyes. In this, our hope must lie with the Spanish people themselves. In a postcolonial world, the Spanish government had an opportunity to undo some of their wrongs. In this, they have failed miserably. Instead, the Spanish people must come together to defend Catalonia and, in that, democracy itself. Supporting Catalonia is not supporting a divided Spain but rather defending against a potentially totalitarian government.

Global Seven News

Catherine McNaughton

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