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9th October 2017

Catalan referendum: illegal protest or reclaiming a homeland?

Catalonia holds a referendum to vote on becoming an independent republic. Labelled as ‘illegal’ by the EU and denied by the Spanish Government entirely, the Catalonians are seen as rebellious teenagers of Spain
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Sunday the 1st of October saw Catalans take to the polling stations to vote on whether they wanted to break from Spain and become an independent republic.

Considered illegal by the EU and denied completely by the opposing Spanish authorities, the referendum soon became violent. Using rubber bullets and force, Spanish police physically obstructed voters from the polling booths, reportedly harming 844 people and 33 officers. Following the attacks, 41 Spanish police raids saw several officials and demonstrators arrested for violating the constitution.

Despite the attempts of the Spanish state to obstruct the vote, the regional president, Carles Puigdemont and his government considered the 43 per cent turnout sufficient to declare the result legitimate. 90 per cent voted in favour of independence — according to the Catalonian officials — raising questions of whether independence should be seriously considered.

Whilst independence has been increasingly called for since 2010, the issues are far more historical than that. Catalonia was an independent self-governed region of the Iberian Peninsula in the past until King Philip V oversaw the unification of modern-day Spain between 1707 and 1715.

In 1931 a Catalan Government — the Generalitat — was formed, and since the re-democratisation of Spain in 1978, Catalan has had a degree of autonomy that is similar to that of Scotland in the British arrangement.

Speaking to Spanish students at the University of Manchester, it is clear that this dispute is part of the Spain in which they grew up. Iciar De La Fuente Galiano from Madrid told The Mancunion that “there’s always tension in Spain” and that recent conflicts were “just the next generation” of Catalan nationalists.

She explains that the education system embeds a culture of difference between regions, rather than the unity claimed by the President regarding the independence movement.

Maria Cotado Sánchez from Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, sees her home as more than just a rebellious region. She told The Mancunion that “it’s likely” that independence will happen in the future, despite not personally seeing independence as an appealing option.

Although Maria thinks most Catalans are like her in considering themselves both Catalan and Spanish, many — as she does — consider themselves “more Catalan than Spanish.”

Along with the cultural and social differences, Catalan independentists also call upon economic reasons for justifying the break. In the midsts of the challenged Spanish economy, Catalonians claim to walk tall with their wealthy cities, carrying the rest of the country along with it. It makes up 19 per cent of Spain’s GDP and 16 per cent of its population.

However, they are seen by those in other regions to be one of the main beneficiaries of state handouts by citizens such as Iciar – with Spanish media outputs claiming they ‘owe’ the government over €52 million it is clear that independence would have an economic consequence on both parties.


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