Catalonia Should Seek A More Sensible Independence Movement

On October 1, the Spain-autonomous region of Catalonia held a controversial and technically illegal vote for its independence from Spain. Passionately supported in the region and equally opposed by the rest of Spain, the referendum turned violent as Spanish authorities rushed to destroy ballots, disrupt the voting process, and intimidate pro-independence Catalans. Nonetheless, the Spanish efforts were to no avail, and the referendum passed with an unexpectedly overwhelming majority of 92%, according to the Catalan government. The violence and unrest during and after the referendum shook up European politics, and with new developments every day, the issue is far from being resolved.

The Catalans’ main motivation for such a confrontational and inflammatory election stems mainly from an economic perspective. Catalans are estimated to pay to the Spanish government in Madrid almost $12 billion more than they receive in benefits back from the federal government. This gap, along with an increasing sense of nationalism in the region, has driven pro-independence sentiments to slowly rise, resulting in the overwhelming majority of the proseperatist Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes) party to hold a majority 72 of the 135 seats in the Catalan parliament. Despite the considerable efforts by the Catalan region to move forward with secession, Spain has remained firmly against such movements. As one of the most wealthy Spanish regions, Catalonia is of high value to the Spanish government, and its strong manufacturing and tourism industries rake in millions of euros per year. The Spanish Constitutional Court ruled Catalonia’s vote for autonomy as unconstitutional, and the Spanish government has refused to negotiate with the Catalan government for a clean break.

 

Photo courtesy of AFP

Pro-independence demonstrators march in a rally organized by the Catalan Civil Society.

Despite what many in Catalonia claim, in the current climate, Catalan independence is unjustified and overly impulsive. The intentionally inflammatory referendum was held knowing that the Spanish government did not approve. Attempting to secede from a nation that has ruled that secession is unconstitutional is not a viable solution for the citizens of any state. Catalan independence is not only unrealistic but unjustified as well. The most referenced argument for Catalan independence is the supposed over-taxation of the state and the inadequate benefits that Catalonia receives in exchange for its taxes. However, this is similar to a wealthy individual claiming that since they paid more taxes than others, they should receive more in return from the government. For Catalans to claim that because they have more money than other regions in Spain, they should receive more benefits from the government is inconsistent with the point of having federal taxes. Government services are not something that are purchased by states, but rather provided to the country as a whole.

Aside from the flawed economic logic of Catalan independence, the separatist movement is also fueled by a strong sense of pride. In general, such pride is a non-issue, and loyalty to one’s state and/or region is nothing to be ashamed of. However, when a state or region is blinded by pride to the point where it fails to recognize the importance of belonging to a larger country, problems begin to arise. Just as southern pride is prevalent, passionate, and generally respectful toward the United States as a whole, Catalonia must learn to be realistically patriotic. Secession from Spain means withdrawal from the European Union, which has stated it will not allow Catalonia to join. Secession also means tension with a larger and more powerful Spanish nation, potentially leading to more violence beyond the scope already seen.

Even as Catalan nationalists claim that it is about time that the Catalans voted for their independence, outsiders can see that the way Catalonia chose to undertake the referendum was overly radical. Catalonia already enjoys more freedom than most regions in Spain. While the Spanish decision to violently disrupt elections is certainly flawed, this one mistake is not a reason to abandon the reality that if Catalans really wanted the best for their region, holding a vote that Spain does not deem legal is not the answer.

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