Whenever you walk through the city of Barcelona, you don’t have to wander too far before you stumble across a Catalan flag (a white star on a blue surface), a poster showing the face of a Catalonian 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 Catalonians since the 1700’s. It began on the 11th September 1714, when the Spanish succession and its Catalonian 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 Catalonians 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 Catalonian 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 Catalonians, the Spanish fiscal system is halting Catalonian development through very high tax rates with little return, and many Catalonians 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.
Every 11th of September, Catalonia celebrates something they call “La Diada”, this day 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 Catalonian 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 Catalonian Government, the Spanish Government could hold Catalonian 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‘.