Why Madrid does not want an independent Catalunya?
Despite multiple friendly requests by the Autonomous Community of Catalunya to be allowed to hold a referendum to decide its future, the people of this Mediterranean state have been continuously denied their right of free choice. The question is, why doesn’t Spain want a free Catalunya?
Catalunya is by far the richest state in Spain. The Catalan Republic has been, for a long time, the engine of economic growth for the Spanish. Its language, Catalan, is not only spoken in Barcelona, but also all over Catalunya. Additionally, it is also spoken in Valencia, Islas Baleares, Huesca, Zaragoza, Teruel, Murcia, Andorra, France and Italy.
The Catalan-speaking territory extends for 60,000 square kilometers, with around 9 million people who speak Catalan and its different dialects. The origins of the Catalan language date to the VIII and IX centuries, although, in its written form, it was only discovered in the XII century. As many other nations, Catalunya has a very rich and ancient history. Part of that history includes the Catalans desire to be a free, independent Republic.
Independence is not something new to Catalunya. In fact, they were independent and self-sufficient for a while, until recently -historically-speaking- when the Spanish Crown conquer Catalunya by force. Catalunya has been since a part of the Spanish Kingdom, which includes other regions that are also battling for independence from Spain. Those regions include, but are not limited to, the Basque Country, Andalucia and, of course, Catalunya.
What is it that Catalunya has that Madrid wants to keep?
When asked about his refusal to aid Catalunya in its desire to be independent, the current political head of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, says that Catalunya’s intent to become independent is illegal. Unfortunately, neither Rajoy nor any other representative from Spain has done anything to allow Catalunya to carry out what the Spanish government could approve of as legal.
Last time the government of Catalunya attempted to seek support for a vote to decide whether people wanted to become independent, or whether they wanted to remain as part of Spain, Rajoy threatened to send the military if the Catalans continued with their dreams of independence. Furthermore, in the last few months, the Spanish Parliament approved a law that made it illegal to criticize the Spanish Crown or government officials in Madrid. Anyone who uses free speech to show disapproval of the government or who dares to crack a joke about the Spanish Crown can be thrown in jail.
Despite the massive popular support by the Catalans to hold a free and open referendum to decide their own fate, Madrid has refused to give any validity or support to such a popular initiative.
According to Rajoy and other Madrid-based politicians such as Soraya Santamaria, any move to seek independence is a political sham, and an attempt by Catalan leaders to use the political process for personal gain.
Reality contradicts what Madrid says
In spite of the ongoing economic crisis in Europe, Catalunya continues to be very successful when it comes to providing the best of the best for its people. That is not to say that there aren’t any problems. Like many other states, Catalunya does suffer from poverty, indebtedness, and political mismanagement. However, there are a series of indicators that no other state in Spain, or nation in Europe enjoy.
Let’s take Catalunya’s capital, Barcelona, as an example. While visiting Barcelona in August, I learned that the city was the first smart city in Spain, the 4th in Europe and the 10th in the world. It is the 4th city in Europe when it comes to scientific production and excellence. Barcelona is home to two of the best business schools in Europe and is considered the 4th most creative city in the world.
The results of these achievements are seen pretty much anywhere in Catalunya. From transportation to city design, from its successful touristic business to its environmentally-friendly record. Barcelona was the first city in the world to receive the Biosphere Certification for its commitment to sustainability and environmentally-conscious touristic model.
Barcelona is the 3rd European city with the most international investment, the first for its Port infrastructure and the number one city in Europe when it comes to innovation. Both Barcelona and Catalunya have the highest life expectancies in the continent and in the world. While men live on average up to 80 years of age, women reach almost 87 years.
The success of Catalunya, which for many visitors seems to be immune to the crisis, goes hand in hand with the success of its capital city, Barcelona. Most business activity concentrates on this superbly functioning metropolis. An example of its success is its tourism industry which each year attracts millions of people from all over Europe, Asia and Latin America.
Lately, visitors have discovered that there is much more to see than Barcelona. While visiting the city, it is easy and convenient to take a train, subway or bus to nearby alternative beach locations such as Sitges or Tossa de Mar. For those who seek a quieter, more peaceful environment, it is easy to take a train and visit Montserrat, in the Catalunya mountains.
But Barcelona is not all about tourism. The city is number one in Europe for quality of life for its workers. In Barcelona, the so-called creative industry provides jobs to some 100,000 people. As in many other aspects of Catalan life, the tourism industry is managed in an economic, social and environmentally responsible manner. Barcelona has established itself as a sustainable tourist destination.
Catalunya by the numbers
Catalunya, and specifically Barcelona, are not only the top destinations for innovation, research development and quality of life, but also one of the largest, if not the largest contributors of wealth to Spain. According to the Catalan Institute of Statistics, Catalunya has a higher number of social security contributors, with 2.9%, while Spain tops at 2.5%. With a population of 7.5 million, Catalunya’s unemployment is much lower than that of the rest of Spain, 19.10%, while Spain’s is already over 25%.
According to The Telegraph, Catalunya is “the industrial heartland of Spain – first for its maritime power and trade in goods such as textiles, but recently for finance, services and hi-tech companies.” The state accounts for almost a quarter of the wealth generated in Spain, compared to a lower 17% that the country obtains from Madrid, for example.
“Secession would cost Spain almost 20% of its economic output, and trigger a row about how to carve up the sovereign’s 836 billion euros of debt.” Should Catalunya become independent, its economy would be bigger than that of Portugal and Hong Kong. Its gross domestic product of $314 billion, $35,000 GDP per capita, would make it wealthier than South Korea.
But secession goes beyond political and economic independence. Catalunya, the wealthiest region of Spain, has been the country’s cash cow. The Catalan name has been used by Spain as a warranty of payment, which has resulted in the local government running an undesirable fiscal deficit of 8%. Spain not only takes wealth away from Catalunya, but it also spreads its debt to the region.
At the moment, Catalunya’s taxes are handed over to the Spanish central government. The power structure in Madrid is the one that decides how to disburse the money to each of the Autonomous regions. Not surprisingly, Catalunya does not get its fair share, hence the growing deficit which results from paying its obligations related to public salaries, social services, infrastructure and others.
According to 2009 statistics, Catalunya provided almost 20% of the total tax revenue to the Madrid-based government, but only received 14% of the state’s spending. Under the current economic model, imposed on all states by Madrid, small businesses, the ones that generate a large portion of the Catalan economic activity are finding it harder and harder to survive.
The same is true about employment. More and more young people with college degrees are struggling to find work. There’s a general perception that everything would be even better for Catalans if they could reclaim their wealth, their culture and their identity, which have been also under attack by the Spanish power structure.
“The economic issues in Spain are very deep and structural in nature. Over the past 20 years, Spain enjoyed a rising level of economic growth, evidenced by a high level of both private and public consumption and expenditure. This growth was based, in great part, on the country’s ability to attract private foreign investment based on low salaries and adequate infrastructure, on the country having been the largest recipient of European aid,” explains Vicenç Ferrer. However, due to the current economic crisis, Spain’s abundance of cash has dried up, while Catalunya continues to attract investment.
In the last couple of years, Catalans have been pressed by Madrid to use Spanish, and not Catalan, as the official language in public schools. In the sports world, oppression against Catalan nationality has also been increasing by heavily politicized sports organizations both in Spain and Europe. The FC Barcelona soccer team has been punished dearly by UEFA and FIFA because of their fans’ desire to speak freely for the Catalan independence, for whistling the Spanish National Anthem and for showing up at sporting events with Catalonian flags.
“Losing the region would deprive the country [Spain] of an economic powerhouse and a vital source of tax revenue. Barcelona, ranks as one of the world’s great cities, drawing in almost twice as many tourists as Madrid. No fewer than five of the 11 players that won Spain the World Cup in 2010 are Catalan,” remembers Tobias Buck.
Above all, there is a much more important reason why Catalan people feel stronger than ever about a move for independence: It is their right to seek autonomy from Spain. It is their constitutional, civil and human right to choose what they want for themselves, and this is what the government in Spain does not want to concede. While Mariano Rajoy fills his mouth with words such as democracy and rule of law, he is the first person to block any attempt from the Catalans to seek independence.
The table is served for September 27, when the Catalans will hold new elections. The voting will also serve as an opportunity for all Catalans to say YES or NO to an official referendum that may dictate the future of Catalunya as an independent nation or as it is now, an enclave of the Spanish rulers.
In the last two calls for support to have an independent country, the Catalan people have shown massive support for a new Republic of Catalunya. If you have not had the opportunity to see what Catalan pride and sentiment for independence looks like on the streets, please make sure to watch the video below.