Catalonia declares independence, Spain removes Catalan leadership

Jacob Morss, News Editor


photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Cowering from a Spanish officer, citizens of Catalonia faced violence for their participation in the independence referendum Oct. 1. The referendum was deemed unconstitutional by the Spanish Constitutional Court.
photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Divided among many regions, Spain is made up of 17 autonomous regions and two autonomous cities. The region of Catalonia is located in eastern Spain along the border with France, with its capital being the city of Barcelona.













Spain is going through a constitutional crisis currently as one of its most affluent regions, Catalonia, attempts to secede and become an independent nation.

The small region in northeastern Spain formally declared independence Oct. 27 resulting in the Spanish government suspending Catalonia’s autonomy and regional government. Catalonia’s fight for independence is no new request for the Spanish region. Junior Júlia Bernaus Trullols, who is from Cervera, Catalonia, explains how Catalonia’s history has been one of constant fighting for its independence.

“Everything started in 1714, and for a long time there have been feuds between the Spanish government and the Catalan government,” Bernaus Trullols said. “After the [Spanish] Civil War we had a dictator, [Francisco] Franco, and he didn’t allow people from Catalonia to speak their language. If they were caught then they went to prison, and nobody wants to be rejected or prohibited from speaking their language.”

In 1714, there was the War of Spanish Succession over which dynasty would rule and claim the Spanish monarchy. Philip V of the House of Bourbon was victorious, although he was vehemently opposed by the principalities of Aragon, especially Catalonia, according to After the fall of Barcelona, Philip V abolished the Catalan state and united Spain’s divided principalities. Catalonia slowly regained its self-rule and culture after events like the Renaixença and Mancomunitat, which were renaissances of local culture, but that all came to a stop when the Spanish Civil War (SCW) started in 1936.

During the SCW Catalonia was divided among anarchists and other leftist groups, but they were in support of the Republican side against Franco’s fascist uprising. After Franco won, in 1939, he abolished all political parties, the Catalan language, and the Generalitat, which is the Catalan government. Franco also executed the Catalan president at the time, Lluis Companys.

After Franco’s death in 1975, Spain created a Republic and returned Catalonia’s autonomy. In the past decade, Catalonia has had protests for independence in 2012, a non-binding referendum in 2014, and most recently, the referendum vote that took place on Oct. 1. Many of those who support Catalan independence believe, as the richest community, that Catalonia pays too much in taxes and does not receive enough in return from the Spanish government. Currently the Catalans supporting independence believe the Spanish government has failed to cater to them because of their cultural and societal differences. Junior Alex Diaz Gallo, who is from Madrid, Spain, believes the vote was illegal and did not accurately incorporate everyone’s opinion in Spain.  

“For the rest of us in Spain, Catalonia separating makes absolutely no sense,” Diaz Gallo said. “Europe also will not recognize Catalonia as a nation. The vote is illegal because Catalonia is just as much of Spain as Madrid or any other region, so if they decide they want to get out of Spain all Spaniards should get to vote, not just them.”

The Catalan government, under President Carles Puigdemont, held its independence referendum Oct. 1 in defiance of the Spanish Constitutional Court ruling that deemed the vote unconstitutional under Article 149 of the Spanish Constitution. The vote was 92 percent in favor of seceding from Spain, but there was only a 42 percent turnout, according to the news source Al Jazeera.

There are a few reasons for the low turnout. Those who supported the Spanish did not participate in the vote because they agreed with the Spanish Court that it was illegal. Another reason which influenced the low turnout is that the Spanish police had closed approximately 1,300 of the 2,315 polling stations prior to the vote, and attempted to stop the Oct. 1 vote entirely.

The violent actions of the Spanish police were widely criticized by Catalans and other European nations who believed the vote could have been handled better. According to Reuters, more than 840 people were injured in conflicts with riot police for wanting to participate in the referendum. With the 92 percent approval that came from the vote, Puigdemont believed he now had the right to declare independence. Diaz Gallo thinks Spain will take away Catalonia’s autonomy and that Spain should be united under one central government.

“I completely agree with their (Spain’s) decision to enact it (Article 155),” Diaz Gallo said. “I think we should quit the autonomous [communities]. We should just unite Spain under one central government because it works better. Our country is too small to be divided among different autonomies. All the people calling for independence now will just continue to make noise, but it’s all just noise.”

After the referendum, Puigdemont and the Generalitat said they would suspend declaring independence Oct. 10 in an attempt to negotiate with the Spanish government, according to the Guardian. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy refused to address Puigdemont’s request and threatened to enact Article 155 if Catalonia declared independence.

According to the Spanish Constitution, Article 155 allows the Spanish government to “take all measures necessary to compel the community to meet said obligations” after receiving approval from the Spanish Senate. Rajoy believes this article gives his government the authority to suspend autonomy in Catalonia; however, Constitutional Law professor Marcel Mateu believes 155 violates the Statute of Catalonia which is technically also Spanish law, according to an editorial he wrote on VilaWeb.

After a secret vote on Oct. 27, Puigdemont declared independence with 70 legislators of the Catalan Parliament in support of a declaration of independence, according to Al Jazeera. At an emergency meeting, called the day after, the Spanish government agreed to enact Article 155.  This act suspended Catalan autonomy and fired the members of the Generalitat, including Puigdemont, according to the Guardian. The actions by both the Catalan and Spanish governments led to massive protests from both pro-independence and pro-unity supporters. Bernaus Trullols said she believes Spain’s actions in reaction to Catalonia declaring independence have been undemocratic and unnecessary.

“There are a lot ways to handle these types of situations and violence should be the last option,” Bernaus Trullols said. “We have a democratic government who isn’t acting democratic. They (Spanish government) are not going to gain any support by sending people to prison. People are now more furious against the Spanish government after the violence on the referendum day and now the jailing of the Catalan politicians.”

In accordance with the removal of the Generalitat under 155, Spain has also jailed many members of the Catalan government on the charges of sedition, rebellion and embezzlement which carries a minimum sentence of 30 years in prison. On Nov. 2 the National Court ordered a European-wide warrant for Puigdemont and four of his associates, who fled to Belgium for asylum, according to The Independent. Puigdemont wrote an editorial on his opinion of the situation in the Guardian Nov. 6.

“Today, the leaders of this democratic project stand accused of rebellion and face the severest punishment possible under the Spanish penal code—the same for cases of terrorism or murder: 30 years in prison,” Puigdemont wrote. “Does anyone think that the sacked Catalan government can expect a fair and independent hearing, uninfluenced by political and media pressure? I do not. We will continue to seek the independence of Catalonia, and defend a model of society in which no one is afraid of the power of the state.”

Puigdemont plans to lead his party coalition in the snap elections set to be held Dec. 21 to fill the sacked Catalan government. The elections will be a competition between the pro-independence parties and pro-unity parties to get the 68-seat majority in the Catalan Parliament. With the current political situation, a recent poll by GAD3 for ABC predicts over 80% of the Catalan population will come out to vote.

photo courtesy of VellBlues
Marching through the streets of Barcelona, the capital city of Catalonia, over 750,000 people gathered Nov. 11, according to Barcelona police. The protest called for the freedom of pro-independence politicians who had been jailed by the Spanish government after Catalonia declared independence Oct. 27.