Six friends walk together with the Spanish and Catalan flags in Barcelona

Spain: a nation of nations

If you have been following the news in Spain and on Catalonia’s aspirations for independence, and you are still there, you may be wondering when this conflict started, or why a portion of Spain wants to become a new country, despite all the economic risks and other major political landmines. Only ten years ago, a mere 17% of Catalans defined themselves as independentists [read here in Spanish]. Actually, secessionism in Catalonia was a minor current throughout the 20th century and the aim of ‘Catalanism’ always defended the modernisation of Spain from the dynamism of the Catalan society. However, by the end of 2012 secessionism in Catalonia went mainstream and those who advocate for an independent state are now from 40 to 50%. Why such a rapid increase?

There is no easy answer to this question. Steven Forti, Associate Professor at the Barcelona University, tries to explain it in this article (in Spanish), well worth a read. Since the new Constitution after the dictatorship, by 1978, the Catalan parties simply have been aiming to gain more self-government for Catalonia thanks to their support for the Spanish government — albeit occasionally or for the whole term. The game changer came with the reform of the Statute of Autonomy in June 2006 (approved in a popular referendum), when the Spanish Constitutional Court suspended 14 articles, including the Preface where it refers to Catalonia as a ‘nation’. Within days, a million people demonstrated on the streets of Barcelona under the slogan ‘we are a nation, we decide’. However, these people, unhappy with the Spanish government’s failure to recognise their identity, did nothing to inflate independentist feelings, according to polls at that time.

The financial crisis is another factor to consider: austerity measures agreed by the Catalan government following Spanish and European indications, which turned citizens against it, especially after the 15M movement. Around the same time, the conservatives were enjoying a comfortable majority in the Spanish government so Catalan support was no longer required; the Catalan financial accounts were a complete shambles; corruption scandals involving Catalan leaders… action was needed to avoid the independentists’ disappearance from the top political seats.

In September 2012 the president of the Catalan government, Artur Mas, unsuccessfully tried to obtain a fiscal agreement (Spain had just accepted a €100bn bailout from Europe) so he then returned to Barcelona and called for elections, counting on winning a majority in the Catalan parliament. President Mas did not gain that majority but this was the beginning of a political and social movement calling for independence from Spain, arguing that Catalonia was losing money and that the dialogue with the governing party in Spain was nigh on impossible.

The rest is known by most of us: accusations of biased education, citizens asking for dialogue and propaganda working overtime. We Spaniards are now witnessing another critical moment in our history and I wonder how we got here, how our neighbours, friends and families are now enemies, and why we cannot stop this nonsense and realise that we are stronger together, that the cancer is in corrupt and inept politicians but not in the citizens. I wish we could all go to general elections and vote the project that most defines what we really are: a nation of nations.