Georgia State University

The Possibility of Democratic Erosion in Spain and Catalonia by Potee Robinson @ Georgia State University

Catalonia once was its own autonomous entity with its own customs, language, laws, however this all began to change in the 18th Century with King Felipe V of Spain. Spain had control of the Catalonian people well into the Spanish Civil War. The aftermath of the war, which lasted from 1936-1939, further suppressed Catalan autonomy under General Francisco Franco who intended on ending Catalan separatism and like Spanish kings of the past, he intended on imposing the Spanish language and laws on the people of that region. The Franco regime ended in 1977 when democracy was restored in Spain. Fast-forward to 2010 where a decision by the Spanish Constitutional Court overruled a law passed by the Catalan parliament in 2006. The purpose of the law was for Catalonia to update its autonomous status from 1979 and essentially suggested that they should be recognized as a nation, rather than a region.  Now with this anecdote of what Catalonia is and its history with Spain, I will transition to explain why I’ve chosen this title for my blog post.

Apart from the fact that Catalonia was once its own autonomous entity, another contributing factor to why they want independence from Spain is because of how financially dependent the latter is on the former. Catalonia is Spain’s wealthiest region, so if they were to successfully secede, Madrid could lose up to 20% of its GDP. The citizens of Catalonia are tired of economically supporting a group of people with whom they feel no connection. Spain’s prime minister Mariano Rajoy and his conservative Popular Party vehemently oppose any attempts of Catalonia to declare independence from Spain.

Catalonia’s president, Carles Puigdemont, has an entire coalition of Catalan nationalists from the Conservative CDC and along with the leftist Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) parties and the radical Left-wing CUP party, they command a majority in the region’s parliament. In September, this majority upheld a binding referendum on independence for Catalonia, but Spain’s constitutional court was not in favor of the process, suspended it. Catalonia went on to have the vote, which prompted Spanish forces to seize ballot boxes and close down the vote. Up to 2.26 million people had voted which accounted for 90% of Catalan people being in favor of the vote. According to Puigdemont, the result of this vote is a mandate for a unilateral declaration of independence, but he is willing to be more diplomatic and discuss the terms of secession from Spain with the Madridian government.

I’m going to turn now to explain why this whole issue in Spain is evidence of democratic erosion. Catalonian people do not consider themselves to be same as their Spanish neighbors. For years they have aspired to regain full autonomy from Spain like they had in olden days. Spain’s interference in the Catalonian election on October 1, 2017, specifically the brutality of it, shows that there is a lack of a government treating its citizens in a democratic and civilized manner. Infringing on citizen’s right to vote is clear evidence of a government being undemocratic. In Norris’ article, she discusses a book by authors Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan titled, Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation where they stated three characteristics that make democracy favorable and functionable in a society. Of the three, the one that relates to the issue between Spain and Catalonia the most is, “Behaviorally, no significant groups actively seek to overthrow the regime or secede from the state” (Norris 2). Catalonians aspire to achieve the latter half of this quote and regain their full autonomy.

Catalonia’s decision to hold an election is the basic right to vote which is discussed in Dahl’s article, Democratization and Public Opposition. This article also talks, in detail, about democratization and some of the criteria that makes a country democratic. Some things that stood out to me were the freedom to form and join organizations and public contestation, which is the amount of elections held in a country. The election that Catalonia held provoked the Spanish government, and as stated earlier, this is a clear infringement on their right to vote.

It’s not easy to say where the relations between Catalonia and Spain will go from here. Although 90% of Catalonians favored to secede from Spain all together, there are those who would prefer to simply strengthen the ties between the two countries. Since the aftermath of the independence referendum on October 1, 2017 Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has removed the Catalonian President and his cabinet and went on to state that the Catalonian administration would be run from Madrid, rather than Barcelona. He removed Puigdemont and other Catalan separatists by invoking Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution which essentially gives him power to take full administrative control over the Catalonian region. Rajoy believes that the voting conducted by the Catalan government had defied what he considered to be appropriate democratic behavior. Catalonia’s success in seceding from Spain could have huge repercussions, but I believe that they should be given the opportunity to regain their full autonomy.


Link to Photo

Leave a Reply