Boston University

Catalonia Independence Movement: A Nightmare of Spanish Politics by Yuanhao Yang @ Boston University

  The Spanish Central Government did not have a relaxing break last weekend, mainly caused by the “political earthquake” which took place in Catalonia – one of the most important self-governing regions in Spain. The whole country is experiencing political instability after the Catalan Government held the independent vote, which indicated over 90 percent of votes supported the independency. Such outcome certainly arouses the broad concern within Spain about the next move of the Catalan Government, leaving question for them if the country will really be separated?

Fortunately, the speech delivered this past Tuesday by Carles Puigdemont – who is the leader of both the Catalonia Government and the independence movement – has claimed that “his region had earned the right to independence from Spain, but he immediately suspended the process to allow for talks with the central government in Madrid.” This speech indicated that the Catalan government will not offer an immediate declaration of independence, which will largely release the pressure on the Spanish society of facing country’s separation recently.

Nonetheless, the potential for the Catalan government declaring the independence in the future still remains – if they feel their needs cannot be fulfilled by the central government. This risk will ensure the Catalonia affair’s priority on central government’s agenda, but the national parliament has to realize that they are facing a crucial democratic crisis nation wide rather than a regional issue – even they can settle this chaotic situation temporarily.

The historical motivations for Catalan citizens to seek for independence can be traced back to centuries ago when Catalonia was forced to unify with the Kingdom of Aragon, and the Catalans fought for ages in order to be independent. It is not hard to find out that the prior reason for them to fight against the Madrid government is seeking the stronger autonomous power which is opposite to Spanish government’s desire of centralization. Furthermore, the economic issue is another powerful incentive: Catalonia has always been one of the richest regions in Spain, and it played a significant role in the nation for helping the recovery from the economic recession in Europe. The record shows that Catalonia has nearly 16 percent of Spanish population while they contribute over 20 percent of Spain’s GDP; at the same time, the Spanish government gives Catalonia 14 percent of its financial budget even though nearly 20 percent of national taxes are collected from this region. This financial unfairness has irritated Catalans: they believe the rest of Spain acts like a drag on Catalonia, and the Catalan economy can grow more rapidly after separating from Spain.

Those reasons provide clear evidence to show how the desire of Catalonia’s independency would undermine the Spanish democracy. First, Spain is now a country with division between society and community, which the people and institutions in the country are not promoting the consensus power-sharing of central government; meanwhile, people in certain regions are extremely unsatisfied with the central government’s financial redistribution. Spanish democracy is faces serious challenges under these circumstances and the central government has to find a way to resolve these problems.

Unfortunately, the Spanish central government is facing a political dilemma right now. Some tough voices in Madrid are asking for the execution of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which allows the national congress to disband the reginal government; on the other hand, the good news came from Puigdemont’s speech on Tuesday provides the opportunity to solve the problem through peaceful talk. But the barrier for this is that the Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain claimed before that he will never negotiate with the Catalonia Government unless they agree to abolish the Declaration of Independence. Meanwhile, the tragedy caused by the Spanish national police in recent events has arouse wide doubt and criticism. The police arrested party leaders in Catalonia and used violent suppression on citizens who went to the streets for parades and vote on the vote day, it has caused over 800 injuries just in the last few weeks. Such violent ways to suppress people from making their own voices has badly damaged the Spanish democracy and the right to the freedom of speech. Of course, the central government can choose to execute the law, arrest more party leaders like Puigdemont and disband the Catalan parliament, after they have already announced the vote as “illegal and invalid”. But they have to worry about if that move would cause further damage to their national reputation and democracy – after all, it was the central government granted the autonomous power to Catalonia in the first place.

But the good news for Madrid is that Puigdemont and his fellows are also having lots of troubles. Why did he decide to open the door for the central government after putting so much effort to make the vote happen? Why did he wait to declare the independence at this moment which violated the expectation of all his separatist supporters? The fact is that there were several significant banks and corporations in Catalonia had announced that they are moving out and will relocate their headquarters outside the Catalonia due to “instability and unpredictability” of this reason. At the same time, people gathering for parades all over the country – even include Catalonia – to claim their wish of “a united Spain.” Also, some important Catalan officials like the mayor of Barcelona publicly opposed to declare the independency now, because they believe the outcome of the vote does not provide a convincing base to be independent.

Under such circumstances, there is time left for the Spanish Central Government to implement new policies and seek for ways to negotiate with Catalan government, because both sides know that the chaotic situation now could only threaten the unification within society, and this democratic crisis will significantly expand the losses in politics, economy and even national culture.


  1. Will Conard

    December 6, 2017 at 7:13 pm

    I think this is clearly a very complex issue. You’re grappling with all of the different sides and attempting to maintain objectivity, which is noble, although I think that it’s worth viewing this narrative from one of the two standpoints. It is clear, at least to me, that any people who desire independence should receive it. The American colonies fought for independence from the British empire because of taxation without representation. The unfair and disproportionate allocation of taxes from Catalonia to other regions of Spain seems like a very similar cause for revolution. The only argument I can see in support of a “United Spain” is one for “stability.” Certainly, if any desiring segment of a nation could secede at any point, no nation would be stable. It is clear that if Catalonia revolts, the entire current region of Spain will be wholly unstable. However, forcing Catalonia not to rebel could result in many of the same issues – although now restrained by a repressive government. In fact, I think that forcing Catalonia’s hand is much more dangerous for the Democracy of Spain than allowing them to secede. Certainly it would be challenging for some time for Catalonia to exist independently, and likewise it would be difficult for Spain to operate without one fifth of their economy, but both nations would stabilize eventually. Catalonia would have control of Barcelona and Spain, Madrid along with many other economically successful cities. There is no greater danger to democracy, in my perspective, than the suppression of a nation’s people; this is what Spain seems set on doing and it is this that one should fear.


    March 14, 2018 at 12:11 am

    I disagree that the separation of Catalonia would necessarily be harmful for the democracy of Spain. If anything, it might strengthen the sense of democracy within Spain, since there would be a lesser threat of violence between the people of Catalonia and opposition forces. All of the protesting that has accompanied the idea of Catalonia seceding would no longer occur and there would be a greater sense of civilian satisfaction within Catalonia. Situations like this where there is a strong polarization of opinions also have been shown to lead to the rise of extremist parties and candidates throughout history, such as in the case of Hitler, Chávez, etc., who gather support from those who feel that they have not been properly acknowledged and then proceed to more forcefully and often undemocratically promise to create change.

    Yet, as you mentioned, it seems unlikely that Catalonia actually will secede from Spain due to the financial instability that would result and the inability for Catalonia to provide a credible threat of their secession. Carlos Puigdemont stating that his region has earned the right of independence from Spain, but being unwilling to take further action before consulting with the central government of Madrid, highlights this lack of a credible threat. However, it seems likely that the tension between Catalonia and the rest of Spain will remain, since it is probable that the government will continue to enact policies that do not completely satisfy the Catalonian government. The central Spanish government will continue to recognize that Catalonia is stuck, since seceding does not seem to be a completely feasible option, and therefore will not feel the need to fully listen to Catalonia’s demands.

Leave a Reply