Imagine you are in a book club. For a few years, it was great, you liked the books and the discussion with members. But then, the club started reading steamy romance novels that you just weren’t into and would not entertain your opinions for other material. Finally, when you can’t relate to the discussion on the texts anymore, you decide to leave the club.
But then, the book club President locks the door and tells you to sit down. You will remain in the club, the other members tell you, whether you like it or not. You will read the romance novels which don’t interest you, and you will contribute your monthly dues, by force if necessary.
As ridiculous as that would be, that is the attitude of Spain, and many other countries, when it comes to regions wishing to secede and form their own country. Why should regions be kept in the larger “club” against their will?
Catalonia is a region in Spain bordering France and the Mediterranean Sea, that has been independent at times in history. The modern movement for independence began almost 100 years ago, but the region settled for autonomy instead of full-fledged independence.
In 2006, Catalonia drafted a revised Statute of Autonomy, many parts of which were ruled unconstitutional by the Spanish high court. This sparked calls for Catalonia to entirely secede from Spain, instead of settling for “autonomy.”
Spain however, doesn’t even want the people of Catalonia to talk about or think about secession. The former President of Catalonia defied the Spanish government when he held a referendum to form a new country of Catalonia. 35% of eligible voters turned out in the region with a population of 7.5 million.
The informal vote was opposed by Mariano Rajoy’s government in Madrid and was held in defiance of Constitutional Court ruling five days ahead of the poll that the referendum was illegal. Around 2.3 million people in Catalonia cast a ballot in the plebiscite with 80.7 percent voting for independence.
The non-binding referendum was held in 2014, and because of it, earlier this year Spain barred former Catalan President Artur Mas from holding public office for two years and fined him €36,500.
Prime Minister of Spain Mariano Rajoy has called Catalonia’s efforts to break away “an unacceptable attempt to blackmail the state.” Spain’s constitution makes it illegal for regions to seek independence.
Yet the government of Catalonia remains defiant, promising the people a binding referendum for September of this year in which voters can decide if Catalonia will break away from Spain.
Spain will attempt to prevent that referendum from being held, even though polls consistently indicate 80% of Catalonians want to be allowed to vote on the issue.
Just in case Spain is successful in obstructing the people from voicing their will, the Catalan government has drafted a bill that would declare its independence from Spain, officially making Catalonia its own country.
The bill would appropriate Catalonia-related cases from the national courts to the newly formed Catalan courts, which would dismiss all pending cases against people charged with independence-related illegal activities.
Catalonia has a functioning government and has a plan to implement their own courts upon becoming independent. The people at least want the freedom to choose independence, and many polls and former referendums indicate a majority would vote in favor of forming a new country that better aligns with their unique culture and interests.
The population of 7.5 million would place the newly formed country right in the middle of worldwide countries by population, larger than Denmark and Ireland, slightly smaller than Israel and Switzerland.
But the Spanish government is holding on tooth and nail, determined to preserve their power.
Why Is Spain So Adamant that Catalonia Stays?
Federal governments are always weary of their power being challenged, and historically countries seek to gain territory, not lose it.
Even amidst the Catalan movement towards independence, Spain is attempting to bring Gibraltar under the rule of their economically weak country, even though Gibraltar has not been part of Spain since 1713. Gibraltar, technically a British Territory, considers Spain a hostile and threatening neighbor. Spain cannot even keep its own house in order, yet seeks to assert sovereignty over more independent regions.
One main reason that Spain does not want to lose Catalonia is that it is a wealthy region, that forms a solid tax base for the Spanish government to slurp up.
Catalan independence would mean the loss of up to 30 per cent of Spain’s gross domestic product and Minister of the Economy Luis de Guindos insisted that is something the government “will never let happen”.
It is a tax farm, and Spain simply wishes to remain in control over the appropriated resources of the Catalans, instead of allowing their wealth to remain in the region, and be spent how they choose through a smaller more responsive government.
The defense minister has called the Catalan government’s attempts at secession “a grave threat to coexistence and constitutional order.”
But this is silly. Coexistence is exactly what Catalonia is after, as well as their own constitutional order which has been prevented by the government in Spain. Coexistence means letting people go their own ways if they wish. Coexistence means you leave people alone who wish to be left alone.
And by constitutional order, what he really means is dictatorial order, as the Spanish government is fighting as hard as possible from allowing Catalans to follow their own constitution, run their own affairs, and be free to choose their own system.
And with Spain’s attempt to silence any dissent, even charging those in favor of independence with crimes, it is no wonder why people would want to separate from a regime so hostile to free speech, and freedom of expression.
It is unjust and an affront to freedom to keep people in an organization against their will. Allowing secession supports the idea that when the larger group no longer represents your will, you have the right to peacefully remove yourself from their ranks.
Decentralizing government is a good thing, as it gives people more control over their lives, their communities, and their futures. Let’s hope we are only seeing the very beginning of this secessionist movement to give people more control over their government and experiment with better political systems.