Catalan Referendum: Not Seeking Traumatic Split

The people of Catalonia held an independence referendum October 1, 2017. The Spanish Government declared the vote unconstitutional and sent Spanish police into Catalonia to stop the vote. As Catalan citizens tried to vote, police raided polling stations firing rubber bullets into crowds of people and dragged innocent voters out by their hair or limbs. Police formed barricades around some polling stations, using shields to wall off voters and beating back those who attempted to enter the polling stations. According to the Health Ministry of Catalonia, 844 people received medical attention due to the violence, including two who ended up in serious condition. The Interior Ministry also reported that 13 national police had sustained injuries.

The reason for the Catalan vote is not a simple matter. As early as the 17th century Catalan fought for autonomy while the region was under the constant domination by both France and Spain. Nationalism has been a strong characteristic of the Catalan people since the 19th century, and in the 1930s Catalan was momentarily an autonomist zone under the control of anarchist, communist, and socialist trade unions. It wasn’t until the end of the dictatorial regime of Francisco Franco’s in 1975 Catalan was allowed to become an autonomist community within Spain. Neither the Spanish government nor those seeking full autonomy were happy with the agreement, and the recent violence surrounding the referendum shows that those divisions still exist today.

With a history of struggle for autonomy and a strong economy, Catalonia has become one of the most self-sustaining regional autonomies in Spain. Many citizens in Catalonia feel their taxes are unfairly used to subsidize other regions in Spain, but that does not solely explain the recent actions of the Catalan independence referendum and there are many in Catalonia who still wish to be a part of Spain. According to the Catalan Center for Opinion Studies, around 40 percent of Catalan citizens believed they had the right to vote for independence and around half of them favored Catalan’s split from Spain. That means a majority of the population still wishes to stay with Spain, but after the violence that occurred during the attempted referendum vote many Catalan citizens have changed their minds.

The Catalan regional president Carles Puigmont said on Monday that, “We don’t want a traumatic break… We want a new understanding with the Spanish state.” This came right before a regional general strike began on Tuesday that was quickly condemned by the King of Spain, Felipe VI. President Puigmont has taken the stance that Catalonia will declare independence within a week.

While the Catalonia continues to struggle for independence, the constitutional court of Spain has declared the referendum illegal. Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said, “The referendum couldn’t be held, and it’s not been held. To carry on with this farce makes no sense, it doesn’t lead anywhere.” What is missing from both the Spanish government and the Catalan people is a dialog on what would need to occur for Catalan’s full independence. If the Spanish government does not want a traumatic split they will have to first acknowledge the state violence carried out during the attempted referendum, and only after that will they be able to have a sincere conversation about the future of Catalonia.