The Picador

Una Cataluña Independiente (Sí o No)

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On October 1st, Catalonia held a referendum asking its’ citizens whether or not they desired independence. My previous article was about this event and its controversy, and, as I mentioned, the situation has indeed progressed.

 

While an overwhelming majority of those who participated in the poll voted for independence, in the weeks that followed Charles Puigimont, the Catalan President, hesitated to take further action. As I am currently living in an autonomous community (essentially the Spanish version of states) that borders Catalonia, nearly everyone around me: my host family, my teachers, strangers marching in the streets had an opinion as they waited. Puigimont’s motives for not immediately declaring independence are unclear but as he continuously refused to answer the central Spanish government demands with a “yes” or “no”. Tensions proceeded to rise in the country as a whole, as well as within Catalonia itself.

 

There was speculation that if Puigimont, in order to avoid the implementation of Article 155 in the Spanish constitution, decided to convoke regional elections for December 21st  parties with no desire for independence might take over parliament. One reason for this is that during the referendum those who opposed or didn’t care about independence likely didn’t vote (due to the illegality), but as a result of the outcome of that event, would likely come out in masses in hopes of restoring stability to their autonomous community. However, according to studies, anti-independence citizens make up a little less than half of the Catalan population, so it would take some pro-independence Catalans swinging to ensure that majority. To me, this seemed impossible. After all, the independentists were so close to getting what they wanted, right?

 

Although parliament did eventually end up declaring independence on October 27th, Puigimont’s wishy-washy behaviors following the referendum did little to give them faith and, more than likely, even left them feeling betrayed. It’s hard to say for sure, but despite the Catalans’ unified outrage towards some of the Spanish government’s actions during this time, there might be a significant decrease in outward support for independence in the following months/years as many will feel let down by the party who has been promising them so much for so long.

 

Despite the threats of direct rule from the Spanish state and the cries of opposition to independence from many Catalan citizens, on October  27th Catalonia officially released their declaration of independence; “We shall constitute the Catalan Republic as an independent, and sovereign, democratic, and social state of law.” Similar to the American Revolution, this action did little to actually give Catalonia independence; in fact, it likely expedited the implementation of Article 155 by Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish president, to suspend the autonomous powers of the region. Now, by order of the Rajoy, Puigimont has been fired (as has the head of the Catalan regional police),  elections have officially been called for December 21st, and Puigimont has been charged with treason. However, he has fled to Brussels and is currently refusing to return. Puigimont claims that he is doing this for both his own safety and as a political statement. The Catalan government, which is currently powerless, has stated its opposition to the severity of the charges against those who participated in or organized the referendum.

 

Throughout this whole fiasco, both sides have truly believed they are doing what is best for their people, often invoking images of them being the defenders of democracy and liberty and painting the opposition as a threat to those ideals. And in a nation so recently freed of a brutal dictatorship in 1975, these kinds of rhetoric are especially powerful. While outside of the Catalan and Basque region the Spanish did not face as severe repression, the vast majority of Spanish people are true believers in democracy. The truth is, while this situation has revealed many flaws in the Spanish constitution and central government (e.i. police brutality and refusal to compromise to a cultural nation within their political state) the Catalan response, with direct support from only a loud minority of their nation, was not the way to best serve and represent their people as a democracy should. All we can do is hope that Spain handles the situation with respect towards the differences and fundamental rights of the Catalan people and not provoke a second Spanish Civil War.

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