By Keith Barnes
Catalonia may soon become its own country, and if Arthur Mas, president of the most northeast region of Spain has his way, it would become the 20th country in the Eurozone and the 29th country in the European Union. This debate has ignited the hearts of minds of loyalists and separatists in various regions of Spain, such as Madrid, the Basque region, and Catalonia itself, as well as in other territories with secessionist aspirations such as Veneto, Sardinia, and Sicily in Italy, Scotland in the United Kingdom, and the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders in Belgium.
Catalonia has long had a strong democratic history, having one of the first parliaments and president in Europe in 1359. Despite losing absolute sovereignty between then and 1714, when the Catalan state was officially abolished, Catalonia has maintained a strong identity as a nation. During the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, the region’s language and culture were suppressed while their provincial government institutions were shutdown.
After the return of democracy in Spain in 1977, the region was given autonomy, but this status was greatly reduced by Spain’s Constitutional Court in 2010. This led to Mr. Mas’s request in 2012 to the Spanish government for a new agreement concerning fiscal matters. This was mostly to rectify the several billion euro shortfall between Catalonia and Spain, as the Catalan government is taxed more than it receives from the Spanish treasury to spend. Madrids refusal to negotiate led 1.5 million Catalans to the streets, demanding independence.
With the support of the populace behind him, Mr. Mas called a nonbinding referendum on Catalan independence. That vote, while unsanctioned by Madrid, resulted in a 40 percent turnout, of which 80 percent voted to secede from Spain. This should have helped Mr. Mas press for a better deal with Spain, but, according to Barcelona, the government in Madrid has yet to agree. Worse yet, Mr. Mas has been placed under investigation by a regional court, with prosecutors accusing him of disobedience, abuse of public funds, usurpation of powers, and obstruction of justice, according to the Associated Press.
It is easy to see why Catalans would want independence when one considers the status of affairs in Catalonia. Aside from the tax that Catalans pay to Madrid, there is also the mockery of the Catalonian-Spanish accent and culture, not to mention that TV3, a Catalan channel in neighboring Valencia, has been blocked from broadcasting.
Catalans feel burgled, according to Pilar Rohola, a Catalan commentator who wrote a biography of Catalan President Arthur Mas. Ms. Rahola considers Spain “a closed road now.”
Catalonia’s recent election of regional representatives led to higher voter turnout when Mr. Mas’s statement of a unilateral declaration of independence if the nationalist parties win the majority, but resulted in said parties receiving only 47.8 percent. This will largely complicate politics between Barcelona and Madrid. Without a majority in parliament, what will Arthur Mas and the pro-independence candidates do next?