Dispatches from: Catalonian independence?

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Image: Sophie Quinn

Since I arrived in Barcelona for my Year Abroad, people at home have asked how I feel about the prospect of Catalonia becoming independent. Perhaps it’s due to the news that Scotland are set to have their own referendum to split from the United Kingdom; as though, as a British citizen, I would inevitably have followed the Spanish version of events with interest.

Honestly, the enthusiasm for Scottish independence cannot hold a candle to the atmosphere in Spain at the moment. The corridors of the Barcelona Metro system are plastered with campaigns, a sea of political faces and emphatic slogans. La voluntat d’un poble, cries a slogan for the CiU, a party who promises a referendum should they maintain their majority. The will of the people.

It is an effective battle cry for a region of Spain that has often felt oppressed by Madrid’s Castilian side of Spain. Catalonia began as an independent nation, but fell to Moorish control in the eighth century; since that invasion, it has never regained its independent status. It suffered as a result of the Civil War and Franco’s regime – their language and culture was supressed by those less accepting of them. Since the end of the Franco regime in 1975 and the Spanish Constitution three years later, the calls for independence have often been overheard in bars and restaurants across this north-eastern region of Spain. With the impact of the Eurozone crisis hitting harder than ever, the Catalan people simply shout louder in response. Their arguments are no longer based on their culture or history; statistics are thrown around to prove that the Madrid government are ‘meddling with their money’ and austerity measures are being lampooned in the Catalan press as being ‘out of touch’, ignoring the true needs of the Catalan people. Independence is a necessity, they say.

However, now is not the time for such a bold statement. With Spain’s economy going down the toilet, unemployment hitting an all time high and the country desperately trying to avoid a EU bailout, Spain has more important problems than wondering whether Catalonia should be independent. More than half of Spanish people under the age of 25 are unemployed, the euro crashes ever further and there are simply not enough resources in place to support the country. Catalonia has always been the industrial nucleus of Spain, with ports, shipping and tourism. To break away from Spain and become fully self-sufficient would result in both countries falling and crumbling. Catalonia would certainly be unable to become a full member of the EU – Spain would simply veto the suggestion, should Catalonia choose to abandon it during the recession.

I suppose I should return to my original question – how do I feel about the call for independence? From an entirely cultural perspective, Catalonia is far from being an extension of Spain. It has such a rich and deep history of its own, is so resilient to maintain its own identity and is so apart from the Castilian tradition that it cannot be considered as one and the same. However, this is certainly not the time to ask for independence; there is no point if that new state would collapse within a few short years. Should Catalonia fall, they would be left to fend for their political and fiscal lives without Spain’s help.

The simple fact of the matter is that there is no simple yes/no answer, despite what the CiU’s promised referendum may suggest.  Culturally Catalonia deserves to be a nation-state of its own. Financially, it cannot survive without the continued support of Spain. Catalonia has many reasons to become independent, yet there must be more thought put into the process – surely the best solution is to work together once the Eurozone returns to growth? If the northeast region sticks with Spain during these bad times, then they will later have the mandate to negotiate a deal that helps both of their economies and makes the transition to independence as smooth as possible.

Catalonia may wish to be an independent state, but it cannot stand alone in the modern world; it needs to work with others to truly thrive.