Century-old tensions between Catalonia and Spain finally erupted on October 1 when an illegal independence vote was held by the Catalan government, which was met with police sent in from other parts of Spain to prevent the vote from taking place. The conflict caused by the controversial referendum resulted in over 750 injuries by Spanish police from rubber bullets and batons in an attempt to seize ballot boxes and shut down polling stations.
Despite the dangers involved, plenty of voters still showed up to decide on the fate of their land. The Catalan government reported that out of the 2.3 million voters to cast their ballot, roughly one third of Catalonia, 90 percent of Catalans approved independence from Spain, and only ten percent opposed it.
However, the central government in Spain did not share Catalonia’s desire for separation. After a month of uneasy relations between Spanish president Mariano Rajoy and Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan crisis exploded on October 27. The regional parliament in Catalonia voted to declare independence from Spain, with a walk-out of over 50 assembly-members who were against the act. On the same day the central government of Spain passed their own action which granted Mr. Rajoy the power to remove the regional government of Catalonia and take complete control over the region until new elections can be held, which is exactly what the president did.
In an unprecedented show of authority, Mr. Rajoy fired Carles Puigdemont along with his cabinet and the director general of the Catalan police, and dissolved the Catalan parliament. Elections to replace the removed members of government will be held on December 21. This last-resort display of power was given to Mr. Rajoy under Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which reads as follows: “If a self-governing community does not fulfill the obligations imposed upon it by the Constitution or other laws, or acts in a way that is seriously prejudicial to the general interest of Spain, the government…following approval granted by the overall majority of the senate, [may] take all measures necessary to compel the community to meet said obligations, or to protect the above mentioned general interest.” This article has never been used before, and the full extent of the power it grants is still unclear.
Some may wonder why any region would want to break away from a prosperous and democratic country such as Spain, and the answer is more complicated than what is just on the surface. Catalonia is a unique land, with its own distinct language and culture that was not recognized by the Spanish government until 1979, during the transition between dictatorship and democracy in Spain. Another topic that causes unrest within the region are economic tensions. Catalonia makes up only 16 percent of Spain, and yet produce 20 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product.
The referendum on October 1 was an important date for Spaniards and Catalans, both the culmination of cultural and economic tensions as well as the beginning of a new chapter in the history of Spain, with the ending unclear. Actions such as removing the Catalan government may stoke further outcry by its people, or it may pave the way toward a more docile and unionist government with little resistance.
By Jordan King