The independence movement in Barcelona; whenever you walk through the city, you don’t have to wander too far before you stumble across a Catalan independence flag (a white star on a blue surface), a poster showing the face of a Catalan politician, or a cluster of yellow ribbons scattered across the streets. The question is, have you ever wondered about the Independence Movement in Catalonia and what these public statements symbolise?
The Independence Movement in Catalonia
The history behind the Independence Movement in Catalonia
The fight for independence has been an up-hill battle for the Catalans since the 1700’s. It began on the 11th of September in 1714, when the Spanish succession and its Catalan campaign were already well under way. On that very day, the troops of King Felipe V descended upon Barcelona, but were met with strong resistance while the Barcelona army tried to defend a decentralised government against the Borbonic Monarchy.
Before the XVIII century, the Kingdom of Aragon existed, which consisted of the Balearic Islands, Valencia, Catalonia and Aragon. The borders of this Kingdom were similar to the borders that many Catalans would like to exist in current times. However, in 1701 when the Spanish Succession began, these borders slowly started to blur as the Spaniards started to gain ground. In 1713 the Catalan Campaign started with the aim of annexing Catalonia, which led to the infamous siege of Barcelona on the 11th of September 1714 – a fierce battle between Borbonic troops fighting for the Monarchy, and the Catalan army fighting for a decentralised army after Aragon fell.
With the conclusion of this fight, Barcelona was capitulated and so the last remaining resistance on the Iberic Peninsula also ceased to exist. The following year, Spain would also take the Balearic islands and end the succession through the treaties of Utrecht and Rastatt.
Why do Catalans want independence?
Catalans are known to be very traditional and culturally rich people. They also pride themselves on their history, so it’s no surprise that after having once been their own independent state with its own language and culture, its people should want to be independent again.
According to Catalans, the Spanish fiscal system is halting Catalan development through very high tax rates with little return, and many Catalans therefore believe that without Spain they would be much more prosperous as they are able to retain their riches to invest back into the city.
Another crucial reason for Catalonia wanting to separate from Spain is because of its King. Spain is a Parliamentary Monarchy and Catalonia has always longed for a republic in the shape of a decentralised system. Another lesser known reason is that the current King is the son of Juan Carlos the I, who was the successor to power after Francisco Franco (the nationalist leader of Spain after the Spanish Civil War) and to whom he had close ties.
The final reason is that Catalans feel they already have everything that could constitute a country – their own language, their own culture and more than 800 years of rich history.
Public Catalan actions for the fight for independence
Although Spain won the war, this day is still felt by the Catalans of today. Through the years, the events of the Spanish Civil War and those that have followed, have given the Catalans the desire and longing of being independent once again.
As you walk around Barcelona, you’ll see three different Catalan flags hanging from balconies and official buildings:
La Senyera – four red stripes on a yellow background.
L’Estelada – an added white star on a blue background.
L’Estelada Vermella – an added red star.
La Senyera is the official flag of Catalonia, Aragón, the Balearic Islands and Valencia. L’Estelada is an unofficial flag and is generally waved by supporters of Catalonia’s independence from Spain. The difference between the two types of L’Estelada is their political stance, L’Estelada was adopted by Nationalists and L’Estelada Vermella was adopted by leftist groups to symbolise a socialist independence movement of all Catalan-speaking areas.
Every 11th of September, Catalonia celebrates something they call “La Diada”, a day that is comparable to the 4th of July in the United States except with fewer fireworks, more traditional music, and activities such as the ‘Castellers’. La Diada commemorates the Catalans’ courage and honour from that day.
Barcelona is also reminded of the events of that day every time the clock strikes 17.14 minutes of game time in the Camp Nou stadium (home to the world-famous football club FC Barcelona). At this moment of the game, Camp Nou comes alive with the screaming of “Hi ha independencia” which means there is independence. There is also an intense whistling noise whenever the Spanish anthem or the anthem of the Champions League plays, because of the €30,000 fine given to the club in 2015 by UEFA for the use of independence symbols.
What happened on 1 October 2017 and what were the consequences?
On 1 October 2017, a referendum was held throughout Catalonia which was promptly deemed illegal by the constitutional tribunal as it violated the Spanish constitution.
Regardless of this, the referendum still went ahead and police branches such as the Policia Nacional and Guardia Civil were sent in from Madrid in buses equipped with riot gear. Once the day of the referendum arrived, riot control guarded the doors of polling stations to not let anybody in to vote. Other polling stations that were not previously guarded were raided by police and saw many votes taken and destroyed.
As you might imagine, this created tension, and many fights with police and pro-Spanish protestors broke out. Only adding fuel to the fire and giving more anti-Spanish sentiment to people that were in favour of Catalan independence. After the votes were counted, the results showed 92% in favour (2,044,038) and 7.9% against (177,547).
Since this referendum was organised by the Catalan Government, the Spanish Government could hold Catalan politicians accountable. Those politicians that had ties to the referendum were later arrested and sentenced for hosting an illegal referendum and the supposed incitation of violence. These arrests led to daily protests all over Catalonia, in particular Barcelona, in which there were over a million in attendance and lasted every night for a week straight.
If you have ever been to Barcelona you will most certainly have come across many of those yellow ribbons hung up on street signs, balconies, flag poles, and graffitied on walls. This is a symbol of solidarity and strength for the arrested politicians whom are also know as ‘political prisoners‘.
The elections of July 2023
Annos, the seemingly dormant political turmoil concerning Catalan independence has re-emerged. In July 2023, Spain held general elections to determine the country’s new leaders. These elections held significant importance for many Spaniards, given the widening political divide within the Spanish population.
As the opposition, led by the People’s Party (PP), appeared to have an edge in the polls, it was anticipated that they might secure victory. However, in a surprising turn of events, neither party, nor their respective coalitions, garnered enough votes to achieve the required majority of 176 parliamentary seats.
Despite the opposition’s apparent advantage, particularly with the PP leading in the polls, it seemed likely that the elections would need to be repeated. Neither party had sufficient support from other political groups to form a coalition that could secure the necessary votes to claim victory.
Developments November 2023
In a shocking turn of events, the PSOE party, led by former prime minister Pedro Sanchez, announced in early November their intent to reach an accord with JUNTS to form a coalition that would enable them to have enough votes to secure a victory. Some people regard this sort of amnesty deal as controversial for various reasons that are partly related to the Catalan independence movement.
Now, PSOE had entered into a delicate accord with JUNTS, a party that had ties with the 2017 Catalan referendum, whose legality is widely disputed. This was fresh in the memory of the Spanish population.
Among other provisions, the accord notably granted amnesty to Carles Puigdemont, a key figure in the 2017 Catalan referendum. PSOE has essentially opened Pandora’s box, leading to widespread outrage among parts of the Spanish people. Some people then took to the streets to protest in cities throughout Spain, such as Madrid and more.
The protesters conveyed a clear message: PSOE and Pedro Sánchez are violating the Spanish constitution. Tensions escalated when the police at these demonstrations used more harsh methods of crowd control, such as batons and rubber bullets, and whether or not this was truly necessary
Some of these patriots, who would typically be staunch supporters of the police and the Spanish crown, are now questioning whether their loyalty and support are reciprocated. This skepticism partly stems from the treatment they have witnessed by the police during the protests.
The concern about the King’s loyalty to Spanish patriots arises from his role as the head of state, as the King signs laws to officially pass them; however, as of November 16th, Pedro Sanchez has officially been reelected as Spain’s prime minister for another four-year term due to the rather controversial way he secured the necessary majority of votes for this victory.