Catalonia's Independence Crisis, Explained

For the past month, Catalonia and its struggle with Spain have dominated world news. For international headlines, the struggle between Catalonia and Spain began on October 1st, with Catalonia’s referendum in which 90% of voters (which only represented 43% of the region) supported independence. However, for Catalans, the crisis has been many years in the making.


Catalonia is a region located in north-east Spain, just below France. Catalonia has a rich culture and identity; despite its current status as Spanish territory, it is autonomous with its very own parliament, flag, and language. With a history that dates back the the 11th century, Catalonia and its inhabitants are proud and loyal.


The region, most known for its popular tourist city of Barcelona, is home to about 7.5 million people. As one of Europe’s most prominent economic hubs, Catalonia accounts for 20% of Spain’s GDP while it only constitutes 15% of the Spanish population.

What is the crisis about?

Because the Catalan economy is so vibrant, it has previously provided many tax dollars to less flourishing areas of Spain. Additionally, the region’s relationship with the Spanish government has historically been very tense. During the Spanish Civil War, Catalonia was a key player for the republican party which was ultimately defeated by General Francisco Franco and his right-wing forces. Immediately following the war, between the years of 1939 and 1975, Franco carried out an extremely conservative dictatorship in Spain which specifically sought to repress Catalan identity. During Franco’s reign, speaking Catalan was forbidden.


Although this overt persecution ended with the dictatorship when Franco died, Catalonia has since continued to struggle with the Spanish government. In 2010, a constitutional ruling called for strict boundaries to the region’s autonomous status.


Catalan people are extremely divided when it comes to the topic of succession, but there is currently no accurate measure for the exact breakdown of pro-unionists and pro-secessionists.


What’s happening now?

Catalonia’s October 1st independence referendum was immediately deemed unconstitutional by the Spanish government, which sent in forces to violently interfere with the process. Over 800 people may have been injured.


In response to Spain’s failure to recognize the vote, the Catalan regional parliament held another, (this time secret) vote on October 27th before declaring unilateral independence. This enraged the government in Madrid, which promptly moved to activate Article 155 of their constitution by imposing direct control over the region and firing all of its leaders.


Former Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, remains a leading voice for the region and has encouraged the residents to disobey the Spanish government. Protests and strikes have broken out throughout the country, but Spain continues to refuse to compromise.

Why is this important?

Several other European countries are facing secessionist movements, so the outcome of this crisis will set a precedent for what is to come in other nations. Additionally, this crisis may permanently damage the economic stability of Spain and therefore Europe as a whole.


There appears to be no immediate risk of army deployment, but the current stalemate between Madrid and Barcelona will need to broken somehow. In the words of Barcelona-based newspaper, La Vanguardia, “All sides will inevitably discover that there is no political problem that cannot be resolved by dialogue."