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Old Sunday, October 22, 2017
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Default All you need to know about Catalonia’s independence referendum

All you need to know about Catalonia’s independence referendum

Speculation is rife over whether the call for an independence referendum on October 1 issued by Carles Puigdemont, the leader of Spain’s Catalonia region, will actually take place on that date; and even if it does, whether it will be deemed legitimate by the country’s Constitutional Court.

Here is all you need to know about the secessionist movement, from its history, the economic argument behind it, and how it could prove to be a bellwether for similar popular movements demanding the right to self-determination.

Where is Catalonia?

Catalonia is an autonomous community of Spain in the north-east end of the Iberian Peninsula, designated as a nationality by its Statute of Autonomy. It has four provinces: Barcelona, Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona. The capital and largest city is Barcelona, which is the second most populated city in Spain.

What is the history of the secession movement?

Catalonia was historically an autonomous region of the Iberian peninsula, which encompasses Spain and Portugal. However, it was never a disparate part of the region despite having its own language, laws, and customs. The marriage of Petronilia, the Queen of Aragon, and Ramon Berebguer IV, Count of Barcelona in 1150, led to the formation of a dynasty. All regions of the peninsula spanning Aragon and Catalonia were brought under unified rule which lasted until the reign of King Philip V.

The war of Spanish Succession created modern Spain with the defeat of Valencia in 1707, and of Catalonia in 1714. Subsequent sovereigns tried to impose the Spanish language and laws in order to culturally unify the kingdom, but their attempts were abandoned in 1931 when the Generalitat (the national Catalan government) was restored.

Catalan separatism was crushed under the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco who took control of the region, killing 3,500 people and forcing many more into exile. Franco was ousted in 1977 and democracy was restored.

Calls for complete independence continued to grow. In July 2010, the Constitutional Court in Madrid overruled part of the 2006 autonomy statute, stating that there is no legal basis for recognising Catalonia as a separate country in the framework of the Spanish nation state.

The economic crisis which has embattled the Spanish economy with rising unemployment and spiralling inflation, only served to amplify separatist sentiments as the wealthy Barcelona region is seen as propping up the poorer provinces.

Who are the political players?

The Partido Popular, which is a member of the ruling coalition Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, is only the fourth largest party in Catalonia. Despite its populist policies, its flagging popularity can be attributed to its strong opposition to any moves for independence for the region.

President of Catalonia Artur Mas is the leader of the centre-right Convergence and Union (CiU) party. The fact that he had to build bridges with the left-wing Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC)to form a "stability pact", highlights the willingness of all parties to forego their differences to realise an independent Catalonian state.

How would a secession affect the Spanish economy?

The Catalan region has long been the industrial heartland of Spain, with textile and shipbuilding, and more recently, finance, services, and technology. Barcelona has a thriving start-up culture, and plays host to the annual Mobile World Congress, where the bleeding edge of technology is on display.

Catalonia is one of the wealthiest regions of Spain. It accounts for 20.07% of the Spanish GDP. Secession would therefore cost Spain almost a fifth of its economic output, and trigger a row on how to carve up the €836 billion of national debt.

If Catalonia were to secede from Spain, it would have a GDP of $314 billion, according to calculations by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). That would make its economy larger than Singapore and South Africa, and on a par with Israel. Its GDP per capita would be $35,000, which would make the average citizen of the Catalonian state wealthier than his counterparts from South Korea or Italy.
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Old Sunday, October 22, 2017
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Default Why Catalonia’s call for independence is unfounded

Why Catalonia’s call for independence is unfounded

BARCELONA — Last week, the president of Catalonia delivered an apocalyptic speech in Brussels. Carles Puigdemont defended Catalonia’s right to self-determination on the basis that Catalans have “a long collective history and a distinctive culture” and clings to cultural nationalism as a way to justify the secessionist stance of the Catalan government. In doing so, he forgets that, during this long collective history, Catalonia has never once been an independent political nation or a state in modern terms.

Catalonia was a part of the Crown of Aragon, before joining the Hispanic Monarchy after the union of the Crown of Aragon and the Crown of Castile in 1469. The Catalan people have since played an integral role in the Spanish identity and the major events of the country’s modern history, such as the signing of the constitution of 1812 that established the sovereignty of the Spanish nation, where Catalan representatives enthusiastically supported the enactment of the constitution in the Courts of Cadiz.

Catalonia is not a declining influence in Spanish politics — far from it. Two of Spain’s seven founding fathers, responsible for the country’s current constitution, are of Catalan origin. This constitution is based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation. Its ratification in 1978 was the result of a broad consensus across diverse parties, including the Catalan nationalists of Puigdemont’s party, and received support from over 90 percent of the Catalan voters in a referendum.

The cultural basis on which Puigdemont portends to support the Catalan government’s secessionist project is entirely without merit. Catalans and the rest of the Spanish people share a long collective history, including a language, Castilian — known broadly as Spanish — which is as Catalan as the Catalan language itself, considering it has been spoken in Catalonia since the 15th century. It would be senseless to break this shared history on the whim induced by Catalan nationalist parties’ propaganda.

According to Puigdemont, the Spanish government “says no to the linguistic question, no to questions about taxes … No democracy. No vote. It’s very difficult to speak with the Spanish government.” This is an accurate reflection of the victimized propaganda the nationalists have been spreading for more than three decades. But this runs contrary to the Catalan government’s already considerable autonomy — Catalonia is currently one of the most autonomous territories in the world.

Catalonians, as well as the rest of Spanish people, vote in local, regional, general and European elections. However, just as Bavarians, Corsicans or Venetians do not enjoy the rights of self-determination — mainly because none of these regions meet the requirements fixed by the U.N. — neither do Catalonians. Puigdemont claims the Spanish government “says no to the linguistic issue,” when his own government is the only regional government in the world to deny the majority of its population the right to be educated in their mother tongue.

Catalonia’s exclusion of the Spanish language is unparalleled. But Puigdemont, of course, did not mention this on his visit to Brussels. Likewise, he avoided admitting that there is no voter majority in Catalonia in favor of secession. Neither did he mention that the exiguous parliamentary majority supporting his government hinges on an anti-capitalist party that supports Catalonia’s exit from the European Union.

The secessionists’ aspiration to undermine our constitutional pact of 1978 will deprive the Spanish people of our national sovereignty — a fateful mistake.

We should not forget that there is no democratic state in the world that gives its constituent regions the right to self-determination. The indissoluble unity written into the Spanish constitution is also a part of the Italian, French, German and U.S. constitutions. The fact that our constitution does not contain intangibility clauses means that it can be changed — but we must guard against using this adaptability to undermine its main purpose: the peaceful coexistence of the Spanish people.
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Old Sunday, October 22, 2017
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Catalonia independence referendum: All you need to know

The Spanish region of Catalonia is set to hold a referendum on independence on October 1.

The single question facing voters, "Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?", has generated many more.

Why does the referendum matter?

Catalonia, an area in northeastern Spain of 7.5 million people, accounts for 15 percent of Spain's population and 20 percent of its economic output.

About 1.6 million people live in Barcelona, Catalonia's capital, which is a major tourist destination.

Sunday's vote will be the region's second referendum on independence in three years.

The previous ballot, a non-binding vote in November 2014, returned an 80 percent result in favour of an independent Catalan state. However, less than half of the 5.4 million eligible voters participated.

The Spanish government rejected the Generalitat's, Catalonia's regional government, proposal to hold a binding ballot on the grounds that it was unconstitutional. They take the same position on Sunday's vote.

Who can vote, will vote, and how?
Only Catalan residents of voting age are entitled to participate in the referendum.

Up to 85 percent are in favour of holding the referendum, according to a poll conducted by El Periodico de Catalunya, a regional daily newspaper.

However, only about 41 percent said they intend to vote "Yes" to independence when asked in June of this year by the Centre for Opinion Studies, the regional government's polling body.

A number of pro-union Catalans are expected to boycott the vote, on the grounds that the referendum is illegal.

Lluis Orriols Galve, a professor of politics at the Carlos III University of Madrid, told Al Jazeera that, despite expected disruption from Spanish authorities, many will be able to take part in the vote.

"The government will have big difficulties stopping the referendum in the territory, the state simply cannot control the whole region, but they will try to prevent it taking place in key areas such as Barcelona," he said.

Ada Colau Ballano, Barcelona's mayor, has reached an agreement with the regional government to allow voting in the city, despite opposing independence herself.

Why independence? Or why not?

Catalonia has a distinct history, culture and language.

First referenced in the 12th century, a defined region of Catalonia had existed for more than 250 years before it joined Spain during the country's formation in the 16th Century.

As such, identity plays a large role in the debate surrounding independence.

Under the military government of Francisco Franco, from 1939-1975, Catalan culture was suppressed.

Symbols of Catalan identity such as the castells, or human towers, were prohibited and parents were forced to choose Spanish names for their children.

The Catalan language (also spoken in Valencia and the Balearic islands) was also restricted, said Sergi Mainer, a lecturer in Catalan culture at the University of Edinburgh.

"With Franco Catalan was banned publicly, publishing was controlled under censorship, after the coming of democracy the only official language was Castilian," he told Al Jazeera.

"There was repression everywhere in Spain, but extra repression was felt in Catalonia."

However, support for independence among Catalans isn't universal.

"It's a false referendum and many think if there's no legal guarantee then it's better not to vote," Jorge Amado, president of Catalunya Somos Todos, a pro-union organisation for Catalans living outside the region (who aren't eligible to vote), told Al Jazeera.

"It's a manipulation. Manipulation of history, of the media, and of the Catalan people to promote this sense that Catalonia can't be united with Spain."

Why now?

The push for full autonomy appears to have gathered pace in recent years, most notably since Spain's 2008 debt crisis.

"In that moment, people in Catalonia demanded more self-government and control over what is done with their money," said Orriols.

Pro-independence supporters claim Catalonia, which is one of Spain's wealthiest regions, offers more financial support to Spain than it receives from the central government in Madrid.

Many view the region's strong economy as an indicator that it would be viable as a sovereign state.

Following a ruling by Spain's constitutional court in 2010, which stated there is no legal basis for recognising Catalonia as a nation, independence appears to have taken preference over reform for a portion of the region's population.

"Because of past experience, instead of demanding state reform, they started to support independence," Orriols said.

How is Spain reacting?

Spain's constitutional court ordered a suspension of the referendum the day after it was announced, following an appeal from the Spanish government who claimed the plebiscite would breach the country's constitution.

Spain's 1978 constitution decrees that the country is indivisible, and grants the national government exclusive power to hold referendums.

A majority of Spaniards outside of Catalonia, about 70 percent, oppose the referendum, according to Orriols.

Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, has labelled the plan an "intolerable act of disobedience" and pledged to do everything in his power to prevent the vote from occurring.

Spanish authorities have arrested at least 14 Catalan officials, including Josep Maria Jove, the regional government's junior economy minister, in recent weeks.

Officials have also carried out a number of raids, entered local government offices and seized referendum campaign material, including some 10 million ballot papers.

"The government is fulfilling its obligation [to comply with the judicial ruling], and I have to say that we will continue to do so until the end," Rajoy said in a statement on September 20.

Carles Puigdemont, Catalan's president, accused Madrid of acting in a "totalitarian" manner, saying "we condemn and reject the anti-democratic and totalitarian actions of the Spanish state" in a televised address on September 21.

Spain's monarch, King Felipe VI, has declared the Spanish constitution "will prevail" over any attempt to break the country apart.

What powers does Catalonia already have?

In 1931, when Spain became a republic, Catalonia was given greater political autonomy within the confines of the state.

However, by 1939 its powers had been revoked following the Nationalists' victory in the Spanish Civil War.

Following Franco's death in 1975, Catalan autonomy re-emerged and flourished.

In 1979 a new Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia was issued, which restored the Catalan parliament.

Elections for the 135-member body were held the following year, on March 20.

The region, which forms one of Spain's 17 "autonomous communities", has its own police force and powers over affairs such as education, healthcare and welfare.

There are also provisions in place to protect Catalan identity, including joint language status for Catalan and Castilian and a law that requires teachers, doctors and public sector employees to use the Catalan language in their places of work.
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