Most countries have a history of diversity, whether that be race, religion, or political views. These distinct regions within a county, with different mindsets from one another, may have come about due to various backgrounds, different political views, or even history. In the United States, this may include Texas or Hawaii, which sometimes feel like they don’t closely identify themselves with the country they sing an anthem for. In Peru, this may include Arequipa, which is a region that never really identified themselves as Peruvian due to different political views. In Europe, this most definitely includes Spain’s autonomous region of Catalonia.
Located in the northeast of Spain, Catalonia is one of 17 regions that considers itself autonomous. Although most everyone knows that Spanish is the national language of Spain, not many know that Spanish is only one of five native languages spoken in Spain. One of the other languages spoken in Spain and more specifically in Catalonia includes Catalan. Only taught in Catalonia, Catalan is a language said to be a mix between Italian, Spanish, and French.
Language is not the only unique quality Catalonia has to the rest of Spain. Other Catalan characteristics that set them apart from the rest of Spain include their history, human towers, cuisine, economy, music, politics, views on bull fighting, and Gaudí architecture. Catalonians are very proud of their identity. If one visits Barcelona, the biggest city in Catalonia and second most populated in all of Spain, one can see the pride the Catalan people have in their region by the countless Catalan flags, and more recently pro-independence Catalan flags, hanging out of balconies throughout the city. Catalonia has in fact, been trying to secede from Spain since 1922. The modern movement started in 2006 when the Statute of Autonomy, a law in the country’s constitution, was challenged in the Spanish High Court of Justice, which ruled that some of the articles were unconstitutional. After this event, there have been several other occurrences that have created more friction between the Catalan people and Spanish government.
Catalans celebrate their independence on Sept. 12, which creates a huge festival all over the city of Barcelona with people walking on the streets with painted faces, Catalans with pro- independence flags, and the iconic Castellar human towers, unique to this region. The environment was full of cheer and celebration. Streets filled with Catalans wearing white shirts with yellow words saying, “a punt” or “on the verge of” on them, to hear Catalan politicians declaring independence in a year’s time.
This year the celebration was brought at a halt making worldwide headlines. This year’s outcome provided the people of Catalonia with very different types of events. In September 2017, the people of Catalonia put their opinions to a vote to see the Catalan people’s opinion on the matter. To the Spanish governments surprise more than 90% of the voters, more than two million people in Catalonia voted to secede from Spain according to the New York Times. In e orts to stop the voting, Prime Minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy used violent means to deal with voters. Evidence of this includes videos and pictures of policemen confiscating ballot boxes, using tear gas on voters, and using their batons on the elderly. Through these means of dealing with the voters Rajoy has strengthened the support for independence and further separated the country.
A junior at Manhattanville, Marta Abellan expressed to the New York Times, “I think it is not about either you want independence or not, it is about how you treat your citizens. I think Mariano Rajoy did an awful and terrible job as a leader when he sent Spanish police to Barcelona to stop Catalans from voting through violence. I do not want independence but I was born in Barcelona and my family lives there. I am extremely sad for what is happening.”
Knowing that violent efforts were not the only options he had to stop voters was not acceptable to Spanish people. And knowing this earlier in September, pro- independence parties in Catalonia’s regional parliament broke their own laws when they bypassed the opponents to pass legislation that made the referendums result binding.
If Rajoy’s goal was to delegitimize the vote, all he had to do was to refuse to acknowledge the result and he and his party would have not faced as much resistance from most of Spain’s political forces, per the New York Times. The result of non-violent actions would have at the very most preserved the deadlock of the past years and most importantly avoided violence. According to the New York Times. winning hearts and minds in Catalonia is not Rajoy’s objective. He is putting his own interests and those of his party ahead of Spain’s stability. This comes as no surprise since support for Rajoy has always been weak in Catalonia and the Basque region since his first term. The right oriented Podemos political initiative is the main problem right now causing the divide we see today. This political idea needs to find a way to appeal to both center-left Socialist Party’s and Catalan nationalists.
As the conflict grows between Spanish and Catalan governments, those who criticize repression and try to promote dialogue between the two are often criticized for having an artificially equidistant stance. Meanwhile, however, both sides are so entrenched that they cannot come to terms that constitutional reform could solve the problem for them.
“The current political situation has divided most of Spain. The recurrent demonstrations only confront ideas and don’t really look for solutions. There is not really enough communication between the parties, which won’t help solve any problem,” said Manhattanville College junior, Jorge Porta Mirave, who is from Zaragoza, Spain.
To sum up, Rajoy has shown that he is ineffective in coming to an agreement with either leaders of Catalonia or several of the parties in his own Congress. It is now up to the rest of Spain to respond to the challenge to undo what the prime minister has done, if it is not too late already.