Dawn Lonergan examines the global reaction to Catalonia’s national day
Many people may believe that countries wanting to separate from each other are a thing of the past, sovaldi part of the developing world, dangerous and even perhaps, something to be avoided at all costs. Did you know that a province in part of Spain and France, called Catalonia, has wanted to secede from these countries since 1714?
The Catalans lost what degree of independence they had in 1714 following the fall of Barcelona, resulting in the lands of Catalonia being incorporated into the Crown of Castile within a united Spanish administration, under the new Bourbon dynasty.
They have numerous reasons for wanting to secede, which include the fact that they have their own separate language called Catalan and possess a separate culture from both Spain and France. Children in state schools learn only in the Catalan language of their region and are confined by law to a maximum of three hours of Spanish lessons a week. Catalonia also has its own separate “embassies” in London, Paris and Beijing. According to the French newspaper Le Figaro, 51 percent of Catalans are in favour of the independence movement and forming their own country.
Their main reason however is that they claim that they would be one of the richest countries in the world if they didn’t have to give what is said to be, according to the Guardian, “an unfairly high contribution” of the GDP to the rest of Spain.
Kieran Oberman, Politics lecturer at UCD agrees that it is an important argument. “One of the main secessionist arguments is that Catalans contribute a much larger amount in taxes to the Spanish government than they receive back in the form of government services.”
September 11th was the Catalan nationalist day, Diada Nacional de Catalunya, and was met with numerous demonstrations calling for Catalan independence from Spain. Newspapers worldwide reported on the million people who held a demonstration in Barcelona. There were also marches around the world including in Ireland, the UK, France and the United States.
In America, The New York Times stated that the Catalans crave full fiscal autonomy most at the moment. In Ireland, The Irish Times commented that the campaign is increasing in strength because of the bad economy, coupled with the current conservative government of Spain who are introducing austerity measures. Catalonia currently has an economy as big as Portugal but had to ask Spain for a bailout deal recently.
The Washington Post stated that the Catalan regional president, Artur Mas, said the region was simply asking for its own money back that it pays the amount in taxes
The Guardian reported that Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, is quoted as saying: “This isn’t a moment for big gestures like this. What we need to do is create jobs.” One could legitimately ask, when is the moment for big gestures like this?
In our own country, Sinn Fein stand in solidarity with Catalonia’s independence movement. According to the head of Sinn Féin in UCD, Simon Mac Giolla Easpaig, “These struggles for freedom and peace have strong similarities to the struggle we face here on this island and there is a level of mutual respect and camaraderie between such international movements as a result. Sinn Féin and the Irish people are well respected and often invited to take part in different events organised by the Catalan people in an effort to increase awareness for their struggle and give an international dimension to their movement.” It does raise the very important question of whether we favour the abolition of borders or the creation of new ones.
Catalonia enjoys a high degree of self-government, running their own healthcare, education system and local policing. Allowing it to form a separate state would be both extremely difficult and potentially explosive. A legal separation would require a change in the Spanish constitution and approval by voters in other parts of the country in a referendum – which seems unlikely to happen.
Post-Grad American Studies Student Darragh O’Tuathail believes that “Catalonia will never succeed, at most the will get is semi-independence, in the same way that Scotland is independent. Spain will never let them go.”
The economic arguments are contested. Some believe an independent Catalonia would not be economically viable; others argue that it does not make sense given that globalization and the European Union have already brought about the blurring of borders.
Kieran Oberman believes that the economy argument can be seen as an argument for both sides: “Catalonia may be having a tough time right now but it remains one of the richest regions of Spain. Independence would leave poor Spaniards elsewhere worse off. If one believes that richer areas should support poorer areas then, it seems, one should oppose Catalan independence.”
According to the most recent linguistic census held by the Government of Catalonia as of 2009, a plurality claims Spanish as their language (46.53% Spanish compared to 37.26% Catalan). In everyday use, 11.95% of the population claim to use both languages equally, while 45.92% mainly use Spanish and 35.54% mainly use Catalan.
The people of Catalonia do have a political party that is against secession. It is called “Ciutadans” and was formed in Catalonia in July 2006. It came together in response to the call made in a manifesto by a group of Catalan intellectuals critical of Catalan nationalism (among them Albert Boadella and Felix de Auza), in which they called for a new political force to “address the real problems faced by the general public”. This party is, however, rather small and regional.
There are specific reasons why people believe secession to be a dangerous thing. Bosnia Herzegovina and Serbia have shown the damage that such a move can cause. To secede from a state on mainly economic grounds could be seen as almost selfish. It could be stated that everyone cannot decide that they don’t want to be part of a certain country anymore, especially during bad economic periods. An area that is significantly richer ought not decide to secede, removing itself of the decaying burden that is the larger state as a result furthering already troublesome economic issues.
During times like this, should we not be moving further together rather than apart?