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In a nutshell: What is Catalonia and why it wants independence

17 August 2010 22 Comments

Catalonia is one of the oldest European nations. Located on the north eastern side of the Iberian peninsula with a current population if 7.5 million people. It has its own culture, language and traditions. Until 1714 was an independent state with its own government, laws, constitution and institutions. It has one of the oldest democratic traditions having created the first Parliament in mainland Europe during the middle ages.

In 1714, after the defeat in the succession war the Castilians imposed their language, dismantled the Catalan institutions and committed a cultural and historical genocide attempting to erase any historical traces that portrayed Catalonia as a leading nation in Europe and the Mediterranean.

Catalonia has throughout history played an important role as one of the richest areas commercially thanks to its privileged location and during the 19th century becoming the first industrialised area in Southern Europe and continuing to this day thanks to its long entrepreneurial tradition. It is also a cultural pole with decisive contributions to western culture.

The 20th century brought a civil war, two dictatorships and even further efforts to make Catalonia become a Castillian (Spanish) province by actively prosecuting and illegalizing public use of the language and culture and banning Catalonia’s claims for self-rule. Fortunately, the Catalan nation has resisted all efforts to make it disappear.

Since the death of Franco in 1975, with the Bourbon restoration and Spain closely watched by western countries, Spain attempted to clean their image (that of a developing, poor, old-fashioned and backwards country) and to project an image of a democratic country which respects the nations that compose it. Unfortunately, this was only a mirage.

The restoration of the Spanish monarchy never led to a prosecution of the fascist regime that preceded it and therefore the foundations of the state and its Constitution are heavily rooted in the previous regime. The current Spanish constitution only recognises the existence of one nation, the Spanish one and doesn’t give Catalan language an official status. Amongst other things, it gives the army permission to act against secession attempts. The Spanish legal system is heavily politicized and dependent of the Castillian interests creating a de facto first class nation, (the Castillian-Spanish one) and several second class nations: Catalan, Basque and Galician. Catalonia is currently an Autonomous Community inside the Spanish state and has the same status and degree of self-government as the Spanish provinces which are not nations.

Catalonia currently sustains an unparalleled fiscal plundering of 10% of its GDP, around 22000 million Euros every year, which equates to about 3000 Euros per Catalan citizen. There are no control mechanisms or possibilities of negotiation for wealth redistribution inside of Spain and the process lacks transparency since the latest official data available is from 2005. After wealth redistribution Catalonia loses 8 positions in the Spanish welfare ranking starting as 3rd and ending up below the Spanish average on the 11th position. In federal countries this redistribution is limited and controlled, ranging from 2% (ie Canada) to 4% (Germany) of the GDP of the richest regions. Unlike in Spain, wealth redistribution in federal countries is generally limited so that rich regions don’t go down in welfare status because of this.

Catalan, though it is the 10th European language in number of speakers is not official in Europe, even though languages with less speakers such as Danish, Finnish, Norwegian or even Maltese with only a few thousand are. Spain actively lobbies and bans Catalan national teams from entering official competitions and coerces Catalan players to play in Spanish national teams with the threat of disqualification from official competitions if they don’t. Spain holds bilateral agreements which ban flights to Barcelona airport from more than 30 international destinations. The list is endless.

The chronic lack of infrastructures in Catalonia caused by the fiscal plundering is now, in a crisis environment, heavily damaging the possibilities of the Catalan economy to recover. Examples of this are a third class airport, most of the toll motorways in the Spanish state and no railway that links the Mediterranean coast with Europe.

The financial plundering is unsustainable and the impoverishment rate is alarming with 20% unemployment and all important economical decisions are made 700km away in Madrid not only ignoring Catalonia’s interests but against them.

Catalan institutions are equivalent to a Colonial Parliament where almost any law approved at the Catalan Parliament can be overridden by a Spanish law if they don’t like it and the attributions are mostly limited to the management of certain public services such as education, healthcare and the police with no real decision power. As an example, Spain are currently looking for a formula to counter the recent bullfighting ban in Catalonia voted by the Catalan Parliament.

Catalan culture is also threatened, even though historically the Catalan language has been the best tool for integration of the immigration lack of power to enforce its use is making it quickly lose shares of usage with a growth of immigration from practically 0 to more than 10% of the Catalan population in the last 10 years causing social unrest and unbalances.

Catalonia has tried all possible ways to improve its situation and now, after 150 years of attempting to fit inside of Spain, having decisively contributed to Spain’s development to become the 8th biggest economy in the world Catalonia has seen any attempt of greater self-governance to improve its situation frustrated by the lack of democratic culture in Spain.

The last chapter of the new Statute from 2006, the law that defines Catalonia’s self-government within Spain, which granted slightly improved self governance, was approved by 90% of the Catalan Parliament. It was heavily watered down by the Spanish Parliament but later was approved in a referendum by the Catalans. Finally, it was appealed by the Spanish parties to the Spanish Constitutional Court and further cut by this highly politically biased court acting like a de facto legislative chamber rather than as an independent law court. This has cut any aspirations of greater self-government inside of Spain forever, leaving the new Statute even worse in most aspects than the previous one. Even the most conservative layers of society in Catalonia have been disappointed, leaving independence as the only way forward for Catalonia.

For all these reasons we believe that it is not only a matter of identity but also a matter of pure survival for Catalonia to achieve independence democratically and to become a state within the European Union as soon as possible.

The benefits are multiple. Europe will gain a rich, stable and democratic commercial ally in Southern Europe that has the potential to become the 4th richest state in the European Union. It would also be a pole of stability in the Southern European area and the gate to commerce with Asia in Europe with (once the fiscal plundering is over) first class infrastructures and an economy based in added value activities achieved through excellence in education.

Catalonia has all the ingredients to become, once independent, an advanced country with a high degree of democracy and social welfare rivaling the most advanced countries in the world and that is why we ask you to spread the word about our democratic struggle to regain our independence. Thank you.

Picture courtesy of Xavi Bassols

I’ll start posting the sources to the data, I’ll try to find them in english but most times the sources will only be available in Catalan or Spanish.

  1. The Spanish Constitution – 1978 PDF in English. Section 2, Section 3 articles 1 and 8
  2. Wikipedia article on the Nueva Planta decrees that abolished Catalan institutions and government in 1714 in English
  3. Spain’s legal system rates 60 out of 133 in judicial independence just after Nigeria in the Global Competitiveness Report 2009-2010 by the World Economic Forum
  4. Latest data (from 2005) published in 2008 by the Spanish Government on the fiscal balances PDF in Spanish
  5. Fundació Josep Irla – Estimation of the fiscal balances between the autonomous communities and the Spanish State 1979-2005 PDF in Catalan
  6. Summary of results of the report on the Catalan fiscal balances of the period 1986-2001 by the experts group of the Catalan Government PDF in Catalan
  7. Summary of results of the report on the Catalan fiscal balances of the period 2002-2005 by the experts group of the Catalan Government PDF in Catalan
  8. The Spanish Ombudsman appeals to the Spanish Constitutional Court the Catalan Welcoming and Integration Law that says Immigrants in Catalonia will be welcomed in Catalan so that they are welcomed in Castilian-Spanish instead Link to news in Catalan
  9. PP will promote a law in the Spanish Parliament to overturn the Catalan Bullfighting Ban approved by the Catalan Parliament Link to news in Spanish
  10. Spanish Consitutional Court’s sentence on the Catalan Statute PDF in Spanish
  11. Fresno Case of Spanish lobbying against Catalan national teams Link in English and in Catalan
  12. Cercle d’Estudis Sobiranistes – Economic studies, graphs and data about Catalonia Link in Catalan
  13. Cercle Català de Negocis – PDF presentations and data with sources about Catalonia’s fiscal plundering and the economic viability of a Catalan State within the EU Link in Catalan
  14. Barcelona airport is banned from flying to 23 countries Link in Catalan and article in CataloniaDirect in english
  15. Sample of Spanish media promoting anti Catalan racism Link to my article and to the original poll in Spanish
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22 Comments »

  • Tweets that mention Catalonia Direct » Blog Archive » In a nutshell: What is Catalonia and why it wants independence -- Topsy.com said:

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Artificial Ideas and Artificial Ideas, Albert Martí. Albert Martí said: In a nutshell: What is #Catalonia and why it wants independence http://bit.ly/aN3p85 #catalunya #somunanacio [...]

  • Candide said:

    Oh Albert… in your favour stands that you have not invented these fallacies. But how comes that you let yourself to be misled by “arguments” so easy to disprove?

  • Albert (author) said:

    Really? All I usually receive back from the Spanish in response to these arguments is generally too explicit to be copied here. Truth tends to offend.

  • Candide said:

    I give testimony to the fact that those you call Spanish are either inarticulate dickheads such as can be found in any place on earth or, which is the large majority, are so fed up with regional nationalisms that they want independence from Catalonia, Euskadi, Galicia or whatever comes to suck. Only the former bother to reply to you.

    And then there are those others (idealists? idiots?) among who I count myself, who are not Spanish but equally fed up with nationalism, yet still active enough to reward you with a coherent rebuttal, like the one on my web.

    Conscious of the fact that it is our countries that will block the emergence of any Catalan state lest it should come in an undemocratic way, which seems more likely as the use of such fallacies as those you mention become more extended.

    It is from this pinnacle that I have raised the above question.

  • Roberto said:

    Albert,

    This is an excellent article, laying out some important and interesting points which increasingly cause frustration among the Catalan society.
    I would be interested in the sources for some of the figures and facts you mention–not because I doubt about them, but just to get more details.

    Salutacions,
    Roberto

  • Albert (author) said:

    Thanks Roberto, sure good point, I’ll compile my sources and put links to all the facts in this article. Just give me some time. In the meantime if you want any particular data just let me know and I’ll get it for you. In any case, you can have a look at some of the previous articles in this website, they’ll detail many of the concepts I exposed here.

  • Rab said:

    Excellent post Albert, congratulations.

    Roberto, I just add another couple of links:

    http://www.ccn.cat/ – Catalan Business Centre. Mostly in Catalan but financial info easily translated.

    http://www.ramontremosa.com/ramonnews/data/upimages/ARTICLES_ACADEMICS/2005_2_APPLIED_ECONOMICS.PDF – academic research on the issue of the fiscal deficit.

  • Albert (author) said:

    Thanks Rab, excellent link

  • Candide said:

    Here we go! The map has changed and now we see not the autonomous province of Catalonia, but what some deviated minds call “the Catalan Lands”, with a kind of Gaza strip and all (but hey, where’s Perpingnan?).

    So THAT is the nation we have to talk about!

    But don’t complain now about the Spanish AND French AND Italian armies busting your ass.

  • Albert (author) said:

    Don’t worry we won’t become independent in one go, first the Principality of Catalonia. The rest will follow whenever they finally lose their patience with Spain.

    I know you’d love Spain to bring the tanks. Violence is the only way the Spanish seem to be able to settle an argument but I think you’ll be disappointed with your country.

  • Candide said:

    Neither am I Spanish nor do I want to see military action. I have said so before quite clearly, so you must be trying if slander works.

  • Ignasi said:

    Congratulations, Albert!
    I’m a catalan, and I like very much your general vision of the catalan political situation. It’s clear and short. I’ll use it to spread the information among my english speaker friends.
    Gràcies!

  • Albert (author) said:

    Thanks Ignasi, very glad that you spread the word about the Catalan cause within your english speaking friends.

  • Àngels said:

    Hola Albert,
    Escellent summary, I can only congratulate you for such history brief of our condition.

    Candide, we understand this is hard to believe, but surely you can have acces to other source of information, I understood you are not spanish nor catalan, do not worry to see it this way. Catalans are very familiar with this situation. Even lots of spanish do not know the real truth of our situation, culture, language, and all the rest Albert has brought us through.

    Finally just want to add, that like Ignasi, I have shared this website to my english speaker contacts.

    Have a great time.

    Visca Catalunya!

  • Albert (author) said:

    Thanks Àngels!

  • Candide said:

    Thank you, Àngels. Living some decades in Catalonia has taught me two things or three.

  • Àngels said:

    By the way Albert,
    Are you an active politician at all?
    Thanks in advanced for your kind replay.

  • Albert (author) said:

    Hi Àngels, I’m not a politician but I’m currently associated to Reagrupament and I participate actively in the Vegueria d’Exteriors de Reagrupament which is composed of Catalan expats and work to internationalise the Catalan conflict.

  • Catalonia Announces Election Date « Frankly's Blogue said:

    [...] in announcing the election date, declared that they would be the most important elections in Catalonia in a generation, in social, economic and constitutional [...]

  • Eduard said:

    TOO BAD, CANDIDE if “after some decades living in Catalunya you were only able to be taught two things or three”. Perhaps it’s because of some lack of ability to learn from life… or may be it’s because you’d expend most of your time at the bullfights instead of learning from the rich culture of Catalunya. Anyway, don’t worry: ignorance doesn’t kill anybody (even if it makes you look ridiculous).

  • iamloddy said:

    Hi, just found the site and wanted to say as someone who was born in Perpinya, I too wish for an independent Catalunya – including the northern territories – and suggest that countries that see fit to invade others, might in fact have gained more simply by talking and sharing with their neighbours but in thousands of years not enough people have learned that.

    I have lived most of my life as a sort of exile in England, yet I still feel a strong affinity with my homeland.

    Speaking of England, they gave India and Hong Kong back to the people, perhaps Spain could learn a thing or two from them?

  • Albert (author) said:

    Hi iamloddy, thanks for your comment and your support.

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