The regional leader of Catalonia, Artur Mas, has promised that he will organise an independence referendum if he is re-elected on Nov. 25. About 3 weeks ago, one and a half million citizens attended a pro-independence rally in Barcelona. This would have been unheard of only a few years ago.
The Catalonia independence movement has grown rapidly in the last 5 years. There are several reasons for this growth. One cause is language. Many Catalonia’s believe Madrid is trying to suppress the Catalonian language. A defensive stance regarding the language lingers on due to the days when it had been completely banned under Franco. On the other hand, Madrid claims younger generations are losing touch with the Spanish language, which Catalans deny. Education Minister Jose Ignacio Wert said recently he would push for more Spanish in the region’s schools. This statement sparked outrage in Catalonia. “We have nothing against the Spanish. But when someone bullies you, your instinct is to fight back,” said Ricard Domingo, a literary agent and member of a Barcelona public school board.
The success of the Barcelona soccer team in recent years has also helped to stroke the flames of nationalism. The team contains many players from the region and has won the European Champions Leagues twice in 4 years. This success gives Catalonians belief in themselves and their region. At the games huge Catalonia flags are waved and pro-independence songs are sung, especially when they are playing arch rivals Real Madrid.
Nonetheless, the main motivation for Catalonia is Spain’s current economic situation. While Spain struggles economically, Barcelona remains a prosperous city. Locals are tired of having to pay taxes to support the poorer regions of Spain. “Catalonia pays a lot in taxes to Spain, when really it’s money that should stay here and could be used to improve Catalonia,” explains a local woman.
There is no doubt the Catalonia has always had a very different culture and sees itself as separate. “I feel Catalan,” insists a local. “My passport and ID card say I’m Spanish, but I just don’t feel Spanish.” It is true that the people of Catalan have always felt completely different from Spain. But, the timing of the growth in the independence movement is no coincidence. Crisis changes everything. Eduard Castells a Barcelona resident sums it up perfectly “It’s no longer only about what people are feeling in their hearts, it’s what they feel in their pockets too. And the feeling is that they would be a lot better off if they were not a part of Spain.”
Madrid has sworn to stop any official referendum on Catalan independence. One official even suggested that Spain would send troops into Barcelona. This thought makes Catalans shake, remembering the Franco years in which they suffered so much. Many also believe Spain would do everything to prevent the new country from joining the European Union. Despite these threats, many experts believe that the unity between the Catalonian people and their politicians makes this movement unstoppable.