On Oct. 1, Spain’s most prosperous region, Catalonia, held a referendum vote regarding the status of their territory. Namely, if it was necessary for Catalonia to secede from Spain and become independent. The referendum was called by the Catalan government despite the Spanish high court interpreting such actions illegal in 2006.
Spanish national authorities and police attempted to close polling stations by raiding mobs of people and firing rubber bullets into crowds with the intention of deterring would-be voters. In the wake of the police-led raids, authorities within the region claimed that more than 800 people were injured.
On the night of the vote, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy stated publicly, “at this point, I can tell you very clearly: Today a self-determination referendum in Catalonia didn’t happen. We proved today that our state reacts with all its legal means against every provocation.”
Once all the ballots were counted, Catalan authorities claimed 90 percent of the vote went in favor of secession, despite only 43 percent of the electorate voting. According to the Chicago Tribune, those who were against the referendum claimed they would boycott the vote.
On Oct. 10, the Catalan government signed a declaration of independence, but will be suspended to give time for diplomatic talks with Madrid. The Spanish government immediately dismissed the move.
On Oct. 21, Rajoy announced that the Spanish central government will enact Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution and remove Catalan leaders and order direct rule of the region. Many Catalan leaders and officials have condemned the move and have insisted they will not be intimidated by Madrid.
U.S. President Donald Trump briefly commented.
“Spain is a great country, and it should remain united,” said Trump. The U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert also stated that the United States has no position on the referendum.
One of the primary reasons Catalan independence supporters want to secede is for economical purposes. The prosperous Barcelona region is recognized as propping up the rest of the financially unstable Spain. Catalonia is heavily industrial and modern, with the region accounting for 19 percent of the country’s GDP.
According to The Telegraph, if Catalonia officially became independent, their GDP per capita would be 35,000 dollars, which is larger than South Korea, Israel or Italy.
Regional leader of Catalonia Charles Puigdemont has political support from both sides of the parliamentary aisle. The conservative Democratic Convergence of Catalonia party, and the far-leftist Popular Unity Candidacy party pledged their support for Catalonia’s independence.
Culturally, the Catalans are separate from the rest of Spain. Similar to the Basque region of northwest Spain, Catalonia has both language and cuisine that are specifically unique to the region. Compared to their regional neighbors, Catalans often are characterized as work-driven and conservative people.
Some countries and organizations are reluctant to endorse an independent Catalonia. French authorities have publicly announced that they will not recognize Catalonia as an independent state if they choose to break away. Additionally, on the day of the referendum, FC Barcelona, Catalonia’s most recognizable sports team played Las Palmas in an empty stadium.
FC Barcelona closed the stadium to display their discontent with the protests in the streets.
On Oct. 8, exactly one week after the referendum vote, hundreds of thousands took to the streets of Barcelona in support of Spanish unity. Waving Spain’s national flag and European Union flags, chants of “Don’t be fooled, Catalonia is Spain” echoed through the streets.
Barcelona police reported 350,000 protestors were in attendance, but organizers of the protest claim nearly 930,000 turned out.
“We will not take a step back,” said Carme Forcadell, president of the Catalan parliament. “Mr. Rajoy isn’t conscious that by attacking the institutions, he is attacking the society of this country.”