Catalonia: Right to Self-Determination

What is Catalonia?

Catalonia is one of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions and is located in the North-Eastern part of the country. It is a major tourism and manufacturing hub with its capital city in Barcelona. Catalonia is one of the richer regions of Spain, contributing 20% to the Spanish Gross Domestic Product while housing just 16% of their population. Catalonia, however, wants to secede from Spain.

Historical Background

In the 15th Century, Catalonia was a part of the territory of the Kingdom of Aragon. Initially, the Kingdoms of Aragon made their own laws, customs, and political institutions. The first instance of revolt against Spain took place in the Reaper’s War of 1640-1652 which ended in Catalonian defeat. Catalonian autonomy ended after the War of Spanish Succession, when the Nueva Planta decrees were implemented, leading to a centralized Spanish rule.

The Renaissance led to the increase in the number of individuals, political parties, and organizations demanding for Catalan independence. The first pro-independence political party, the Estat Catala, was founded in 1922. They were exiled to France under the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera. In March 1931, following the overthrow of Primo de Rivera, Estat Català joined with the Partit Republicà Català (Catalan Republican Party) and the political group L’Opinió (Opinion) to form Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya(ERC).

The ERC won an overwhelming majority in the municipal elections and immediately began talks with the center for Catalan independence but after negotiations, was obliged to settle for autonomy. Catalan autonomy lasted till the Spanish Civil War.

Following the dictator, General Franco’s death in 1975, Spain moved to democracy. A new constitution was adopted in 1978, which asserted the “indivisible unity of the Spanish nation” but acknowledged the right to regional autonomy. In 1979, The Statute of Autonomy for Catalonia was accepted by 88% of Catalonian voters in a referendum.

Current Scenario

Between 2009 and 2011 a series of unofficial referendums for independence spread through Catalonia. About 40% of eligible voters participated and 96% of those voted for Catalan independence.

The two major political parties in Catalonia, the ERC, and the CiU drafted a Declaration of Sovereignty and of the Right to Decide of the Catalan People. This declaration was adopted by the Catalonian parliament in January 2013. The declaration stated that “the Catalan people have, for reasons of democratic legitimacy, the nature of a sovereign political and legal subject”, and that the people had the right to decide their own political future. The Spanish Government immediately referred the declaration to the Spanish Constitutional Court, which ruled in March 2014 that the Declaration violated the Spanish Constitution. However, it recognized that there existed a right to decide.

An Independence Referendum took place on 9th November 2014, defying the Constitutional Court’s stay order. 81% of the voters supported Catalan independence but only 41% of the electorate voted.

The Catalonian Parliament had announced that there would be another referendum on 1st October 2017. The Catalan Parliament also passed a law stating that the result would be legally binding, without a minimum turnout required. The Constitutional Court declared this referendum illegal as well. But the organizers claimed that the order would not affect their plans. The Government of Spain is taking all measures possible to prevent the vote, including seizure of ballots and arresting key leaders but what will happen remains to be seen.

FC Barcelona – More than a club

FC Barcelona, the world famous football club, prides itself on being “More than a club”. The club has been very involved in the Catalonian Independence struggle. Home matches at the Camp Nou are always interspersed with chants for freedom and waving of flags. Many key figures at the club, including past and present players like Gerard Pique, are firmly in the pro-independence camp. However, there is a possibility that Independence will result in FC Barcelona, along with Girona and Espanyol, being expelled from the La Liga, Spain’s famous football league.

-Siddharth L. Pai

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