Surely we’ve all heard of Barcelona, Spain, a city world-famous for its beauty, history, and soccer team. But did you know that Barcelona is within a region in Spain’s northeast called Catalonia, an autonomous community with its own parliament, history, culture, politics, and language distinct from that of Spain? Because of this, many Catalans are not satisfied with their current autonomy within Spain and want total independence.
In the 2015 Catalan regional election, the population decisively elected a pro-independence government who promised a referendum on the issue. This referendum was scheduled to take place on October 1st of this year, but Spain’s government is outright hostile to the idea of Catalan independence. On September 8th, Spain’s Constitutional Court suspended the October 1st referendum due to an appeal by Spain’s government. Later in the month on September 20th, Spain’s Guardia Civil (Civil Guard) raided the offices of the Catalan government, arrested a dozen officials, and seized information pertaining to the referendum and ballot papers.
So why should a Bates student care about these events that are taking place 3,500 miles away from campus? For one, it should disturb everyone that a so-called “western democracy” is denying the rights of an entire group to self-determination. We saw in 2015 how the Scottish referendum took place peacefully without issue. Both sides had ample opportunity to present their cases to the Scottish people, and Scotland rejected independence in the end.
This raises the question: What is the Spanish government so afraid of? Why does it care about the possibility of Catalan independence so much that it acts against the basic rights of the Catalan people? The reality is quite simple. Catalonia, as a region, is crucial for Spain’s economy. Barcelona is Spain’s second biggest city and one of its most crucial financial centers. Catalonia contributes about 20 percent of Spain’s gross domestic product (GDP). An independent Catalonia would not be in the interest of Spanish business interests.
Faced with Catalonia’s wish for independence and Spain’s deteriorating economic situation, Spain’s pro-austerity government has two options at hand: one, let Catalonia secede peacefully and impose further austerity on the Spanish people to compensate for GDP losses, or two, interfere with the Catalan people’s right to self-determination and avoid risking losses in popularity among the general population.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his “People’s” Party cannot serve two masters at once. His neoliberal government has carried out a program of austerity that seeks to reign in the current economic crisis by cutting social services when youth unemployment is still nowhere near pre-2008 levels — 38.6 percent to be exact.
It should become clear that there is a loser in the relationship between Catalonia and Spain, and it’s the Catalan people. Their labor provides the nation with 20 percent of its total GDP, yet all they get in return is repression from the Rajoy government. What respect does the Spanish Government have for Catalans if they use them to keep Spain’s economy afloat but will only agree to view them as a dependency?
But we still must remember that independence won’t necessarily be an end-all-be-all for the Catalan people. They are still under a pro-austerity leader themselves, Carles Puigdemont, and his agenda must be fought if the people are to liberate themselves from the grip of austerity. But even though the battle against austerity would continue in an independent Catalonia, Catalonia throwing off their chains would be a strong signal to the international community that national oppression must be opposed and right to self determination of all peoples must be respected.
The Catalan people have the right to voice their anger at the Spanish government at the polls on October 1st. They have the right to say that they have had enough of the repression of their rights. They have the right to say that they want to determine their future for themselves.