Introduction Since Catalonia’s integration to Spain in 1462 when Ferdinand 1 and Queen Isabella married uniting the kingdoms, Catalonia has always experienced tension with the Spanish government and there has always been a movement to autotomize itself from Spain, yet it has been seen more prominently in the recent years. The issue in the said region has expanded to a larger scale, now involving the surrounding countries, the European Union and the United Nations. To fully understand the issue in this stateless nation, we must examine the conflict’s origins, how it has developed, and as well as how it is being handled by the Spanish government. Here we will examine to what extent has the autonomous conflict in Catalonia developed and been handled by the Spanish Government in a way that promotes security and equity? I believe that the Spanish government has not adequately addressed the conflict, therefore, leading to further expansions and uprisings that will eventually deny the Catalan population security and equity. Background Nationalist sentiment did not fully arise in Catalonia until the 19th century when Spain began to industrialize and experience a cultural renaissance thus leading to the revival of Catalan culture, language, and nationalism. Later in the early 1900’s the four Catalan provinces were given a joint self-government, yet it was later suppressed and disintegrated during the dictatorship of Spanish Prime Minister Miguel Primo de Rivera in 1925. Years later Spain became a republic and the Catalans were able to have an autonomous regional government known as the “Generalitat”. Yet, it all went downhill for the Catalan population when Francisco Franco came into power in 1938, since the “Generalitat” supported the Spanish republic they fought against Franco’s dictatorship and were eventually overrun by his troops in 1939, paving the way for the Republican collapse as its main supporter was the Catalan community. Franco’s dictatorship lasted until 1970, throughout these years there was a suppression of political opposition as well as Catalan autonomy, language, and culture, and thousands of Catalan activists were executed or went into exile. Francisco Franco’s fascist regime was completely opposed to the idea of a separate Spanish entity people were not allowed to speak their language in public if they did, they were punished. At school, Catalan children were considered illiterate and treated violently. Thus they became a suffering nation suppressed under the country’s collective government. During its repression that Catalan state began to be the Spanish community bringing in the most revenue due to its developing industries and the mass tourism in Barcelona, displaying another reason for the Catalan repression as the Spanish government feared that the Catalan government would eventually secede from Spain thus depriving them of their main source of income. After Franco’s death in 1975, King Juan Carlos came into power and restored the provisional regional government the “Generalitat” in order to gain support from the Catalan population and avoid any radical movements of secession. Spain then begins to recognize the different national communities thus beginning the regionalization of the country. In this process, Catalonia was given a statute of autonomy and Catalan was recognized as a nationality, thus becoming the official language of the region along with Castilian. In response to Franco’s death, some Catalans felt they wanted to become an independent state as they felt as if they were taken advantage of by the Spanish state thus leading to the development of an armed Catalan separatists terrorist group in Catalonia known as “Terra Lliure” or Free Land. This group carried out several attacks leading to 5 deaths, four of which were group members, yet it dissolved promptly in 1995 as a majority of the members felt that violence was not the way to achieve autonomy. In the years following 1980 until 2003 the head of the “Generalitat” was Jordi Pujol, one of the leaders of the “Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya” party. He was in favor of Catalan nationalism yet instead of wanting a fully independent republic, he aimed to work towards an allied Spain that would, according to Pujol, recognize Catalonia “as a country, as a collective with its own personality and differences,” and “guarantee that her own identity be respected”. Following Pujol retirement, socialist leader Pasqual Maragall came to power in 2003 but was replaced by Jose Montilla in 2006. A few months after Montilla’s appointment to the position a reformed version of Catalonia’s autonomous statute comes into play, providing the regional government greater power and financial autonomy, as well as addressing the region of Catalonia as a “nation”. Following this reform came economic crisis in the area arising the autonomous sentiment in the area, this is also seen in the Basque region of Spain as they too are going through a similar issue as they only hope to improve their conditions whether is be by gaining more rights and influence in the Spanish government or by becoming a completely separate entity. Spain’s Economic Crisis and How it Has Lead to Catalan Autonomous IdeasThe Spanish financial crisis, also known as the Great Recession in Spain, began in 2008 during the world’s financial crisis. The main cause was the housing bubble when real estate saw an exponential rise in prices and the extremely high gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate. The tax revenues from the skyrocketing property investment and construction sectors kept the Spanish government’s revenue in surplus, until 2007. The Spanish government wanted to support the critical development thereby reducing supervision of the financial sector and thus leading and allowing the banks to violate International Accounting Standards Board standards. The banks were able to hide their losses and earnings vaporization, as well as mislead analysts, and investors. The results of the recession were devastating as it, included a strong economic downturn, an exponential increase in unemployment, and bankruptcies of major companiesFor the first time in 15 years, the nations GDP contracted by 2008, thus leading to the entrance into a recession in 2009. In that year and the following years, Catalan nationalists began to hold a series of informal, non-binding votes on independence in regional towns and cities, including the capital Barcelona.This was due to the fact that The Statute of Autonomy placed in 2006 gave more power to the region and recognized Catalonia as a nation, although one still within Spain. But in 2010, Spain’s Constitutional Court weakened it; as around that time, Spain began to impose a more direct rule on its autonomous communities so it had to weaken the statute in order to do so. Yet instead of explaining the economic reasoning behind the strategy Madrid claimed that the main reason they were weakening was the statute was because they had ruled that there is no legal basis for recognizing Catalonia as a nation within Spain and that Catalan should not take precedence over Castilian in the region. This, of course, angered the Catalans as they believed this issue had already been resolved and discussed back in 2006 when the statute what put into place. Around this time Catalonia had high levels of unemployment, as did the rest of Spain. Its economically active population 22%, was lower than the national jobless rate but higher than that of the province of Madrid. In 2010 after the statute has been removed from the Catalans they petitioned to have a statute that would allow them to collect their own taxes as they were suffering during the economic crisis, yet Spain denied their petition even though that same system had already been established in another area of Spain, the Basque Country which also has had issues with separatism in recent years. Thus this lead to an even greater gap between the Catalans and the Spanish as the Catalan people were infuriated that they were being denied something that another community had, they felt as if they were being taken advantage of, due to their extremely high taxes compared to the rest of the communities, and began to revolt. The main reason why the Catalonian population has decided to take an irredentist stand is that they know that Spain cannot survive and thrive without them. Catalan residents represent about 16% of the country’s population, meanwhile, they contribute 20% of Spain’s taxes, and later receive 14% back for public expenses.The region also accounts for over 25% of the countries exports. Elisenda Paluzie, an economics professor at the University of Barcelona states that Catalonia is economically important to Spain and if they were to secede “they’d lose a territory that’s relatively rich and contributes a lot to taxes.”. Since the region was maintained under Spanish rule all throughout the eurozone crisis, Catalonia suffered immensely to the point that the debt-ridden region had to ask the Spanish government for 5 billion-euro bail so that they would be able to pay down debt and meet deficit reduction targets set by the Spanish government. That same year, 2012, 1.5 million people organized a rally in Barcelona on September 11 – the national day of Catalonia – to protest and express their anger towards Spain’s financial decisions concerning the region as well as the financial transfers from the autonomous community to the rest of the Spanish state. Therefore we can conclude that the economic issues in the Spanish state have to lead to irredentist ideas in the region of Catalonia. Prior to its evolution Catalan autonomy was mainly affecting and noticed by the older and working population and although the movement may have begun because of this issue, it has evolved into a much larger issue that now has taken in more factors of equal or greater importance that now involves many people of all ages.Catalan Autonomy Nationalism is the patriotic feeling for one’s country that sometimes is aligned with the advocacy for the political independence of such country, in this case, we will focus on the northeast autonomous community of the Iberian peninsula known as Catalonia. Nationalism has always been a predominant feeling in the Catalan community as its culture is very distinct from that of the Castilians for they have their own language, cuisine, and culture. Yet in recent years the nationalism Catalonia residents had has evolved into a stronger feeling: autonomy. The pro-independence moves began in late 2012 as people became furious with all the issues regarding the Spanish economy and the fact that they did not allow the Catalan to manage their own economy. Thus in December of 2012 Artur Mas, politician, and president of the “Generalitat” from 2010-2015 was re-elected as president after the CiU (Convergence and Union) signed a pact with the left wing ERC (Republican Left of Catalonia), both supporting holding a referendum on the secession from Spain in 2014. This lead to a declaration of sovereignty in 2013 by the parliament, yet in the following year when the referendum on Catalonia’s independence was supposed to occur, it was declared unconstitutional by the Spanish government. This is because under the Spanish constitution a referendum is illegal if it is not recognized and approved by the Spanish state as the unity of Spain is “indissoluble”, thus since the Catalan one did not fit these requirements it was declared illegal and unconstitutional. Therefore the Catalan parliament continued to petition the Spanish government to let them hold the referendum but they continued to decline. Yet, Mas felt that the referendum was necessary in order to know how the majority of the population felt and to see where they stood on the issue so he decided to sign a non-binding referendum on the region’s independence to take place in November of 2014. In November the votes were cast by two million out of 5.4 million voters and 80% opted towards the independence of Catalonia. This was a very important moment for the Catalan community as it demonstrated that they all wanted one thing and that was to be a separate entity, and their only obstacle was to get past the Spanish government and make the vote legal. In January of 2015, Artur Mas decides that he wants to make the vote legal so he calls for new regional elections on September 27, 2015, where he can hopefully declare Catalonia’s independence. In the regional election, the separatists win causing them to push for the independence of their stateless nation and the Catalan parliament adopts a resolution to support it. But the Spanish constitutional court quickly revoked Catalonia’s appeal to begin separating from Spain. The separatists began to oppose the Spanish government even more, yet as they were the majority they elected Carles Puigdemont, Catalan nationalist politician, to head the Catalan government in 2016. The referendum from 2014 not only showed the separatists the strength they had in numbers but was also the start of a more unsympathetic and hateful Spain. Both the Catalan and the Spanish began to disrespect each other and have larger debacles that ended on bad terms, thus as the nationalist conflicts continued to arise Artur Mas was banned in 2017 from public office for two years for staging the referendum. Later that another illegal referendum was put into play on October 1 people were advised by the Spanish government to not go out and vote but the separatists did anyways as they wanted to voice their opinions and gain autonomy, which ended in extreme violence between the “Guardia Civil” -Spanish police- and the voters. Although the separatists won the vote, Spain still imposed direct rule after the Catalan government had announced “independence” for 8 seconds on October 10, 2017. The European Union also has a large effect on whether Catalonia can be recognized as an independent state yet according to European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker “the commission would, indeed, recognize an independent state—provided a referendum was held with Madrid’s blessing, which it won’t be.” This statement relays the belief of the surrounding countries as most believe that Catalonia will not become an independent state due to the fact that it is under extreme pressure from Madrid and it will never let go of its most important and significant provider.How Has Spain Handled the ConflictSince the Catalan separatists had won the vote in the illegal referendum in October and had decided to impose direct rule over the region and remove most people from its parliament as well as suspend Catalan security forces -els mossos d’esquadra-, interrupting the region’s institutions of self-rule for the first time in the country’s history as a democracy. Barcelona’s Mayor Ada Colau says that Madrid has embarked on a “coup against democracy” in response to pro-secession parties’.When Puigdemont signed the declaration of independence on October 10, Madrid put the Catalan leader in an unpleasant position which was to either back down from independence or the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s threatened to impose direct rule onto the regional parliament. Spain’s direct rule implies a return to force that although constitutionally justifiable, could lead to a further number of Catalans realizing that the government in Madrid did not have the populations needs and interests in mind but instead their own. At first, when surveyed in July, about 41% of Catalans favored independence and meanwhile 49% opposed. Yet in October this all changed, The Spanish leadership had rejected and announced the vote as illegal and the courts had ordered a halt. The Spanish police were ordered to arrest Catalan officials, seize ballots and raid key regional buildings, as well as polling stations, in an attempt to stop it going ahead; yet the Catalans had gone onto the streets to protest this court order as they felt that they were being silenced by their governments and being deprived of the freedoms given to them by the democracy. As the Spanish people took their signs and their voices to the streets, they were hit by police and thrown on the floor, from the image we can see people laying on the ground covering their faces as they were defenseless against masked, armed police officers who were abusing their power and hitting them with bats. By the time this chaotic day was over, at least 850 people had been injured in the clash with the national security forces. The National Police and Civil Guard, armed with bats and shields, managed to confiscate millions of ballots and drag people away from the voting stations using brute force. Nonetheless, the vote occurred, although there was a small percent of the population that voted the majority had won and now after this, the separatists have an even larger amount of supporters as they now believe that the country they live in is not a true democracy. Following this day Catalonians joined forces against the central government and began to demand the right to vote and to live free of state brutality. The UN prior to the referendum “called on the Spanish authorities to ensure that measures taken ahead of the Catalan referendum on 1 October do not interfere with the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, and public participation.” The Spanish government confirmed that the officials going into the region and taking charge of the scene would, in fact, respect the people’s rights when instead they did the complete opposite. After placing the direct rule over the regional parliament the Spanish government decided to hold a regional vote in order to elect a new parliament on December 21, 2017, the pro-independence parties win a majority in Catalan elections, although a pro-Madrid and pro-Spain party emerges as the largest group in the regional parliament. Many believe that this is a way that Madrid can keep an eye on the Catalonian government, by making them believe that they aren’t under direct rule when they really are; ergo turning even more people against the Spanish government. If Madrid keeps on handling the conflict in such a way it will not only discourage the security and equity of the region but also lose its supporters as now other countries are frowning upon Spain and its brutality. ConclusionAfter a thorough examination, I have come to the conclusion that Spain has tried to deal with the conflict in a way to minimize its influence rather than trying to resolve it. The Spanish government tries to promote security but does not realize that without equity, security will not be achieved. Since this is an ongoing conflict that has already resulted in violence Spain must do something in order to favor both parties and lead this issue to a halt. Autonomous conflicts have been occurring all throughout history and we must look back upon them to find the best possible outcome to resolve this one.
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