The Struggle for Catalan Independence

Claire Taylor, Contributing Writer

Last Sunday, October 1st, 2017, Catalans voted for or against their province’s independence from Spain. Brewing for several hundred years, the influential steps taken on Sunday were followed by immediate attention from around the world.

Known as the “economic engine of Spain” according to CNN, Catalonia is responsible for one fourth of Spain’s total exports as well as the touristic city of Barcelona. The province is located in the northeast corner of Spain and borders the southeast corner of France. Although constitutionally a part of Spain, the province possesses its own flag and national anthem as well as its own language while governing itself on health, education, and security issues. According to the Spanish Constitution, it is illegal for Catalonia to become an independent nation.

The popular slogan heard during protests in favor of Catalan independence is “Madrid nos roba” (Madrid robs us). This slogan is derived from the dismal history of Madrid taxing the province without reimbursing the federal funds the province needs, making Catalonia the losing partner. Catalans have lost their tolerance for the poverty and high unemployment rates that have resulted from Madrid’s taxation injustices.

After the Sunday polls, CNN reported that King Felipe spoke disappointedly about Catalan’s disloyalty towards Madrid because, in his eyes, Madrid only “protects Catalan interests.” The Guardian reported on nearly a thousand injuries in total caused by the intervention of riot police in certain demonstrations that occurred throughout this week, specifically after the referendum meeting in Barcelona. The New York Times reported the diplomatic progressions of this issue throughout this week as well.

The question of Catalonian independence has sparked controversy not only in Spain, but in Europe, and even Spanish classes at Hingham High School. This week Spanish classes throughout Hingham High School engaged in debates about this issue while the events unfolded. On Friday, in Ms. Shaw’s Spanish V class of seniors vocalized multiple different views on the conflict. “Catalonia should stay a part of Spain because it’s needed economically” Joe Cavanaugh, a senior, said. Senior Clare Daly spoke about her family’s connection to the situation. “My cousin is in Barcelona and she told me about the multiple protests. They seem to include mostly young people, but also some older people scattered here and there.”

Emily Brazel explained that Catalonia wants to split because of cultural reasons, drawing attention to their possession of their own language. She also said, “It’s selfish [of them] to separate from Spain as other parts [of the country] rely on them for exports.” On the contrary, Nico declared definitively that he hopes “Catalonia takes a stand against Spain for the injustice. They’re the ‘second hand man’ and they don’t want that anymore, so they should take a stand to focus on their own interests.” Bella Otoka said, “The Spanish government outlawed their culture. They don’t feel rewarded for all they contributed.”

Mr. Griffin’s class was quieter on the issue, but two seniors did speak out. Greta Eustace, similarly to Emily, said that she thought Catalonia wants the split for “…cultural reasons. They’re scared of cultural absorption. They don’t identify with their fellow Spanish.”

Zach Patticos compared the Catalans’ poll results on independence to the poll results of the 2016 U.S presidential elections. Zach found it “interesting” how the US elections were apparently 60/40, while the Catalan elections claimed to be 90/10, according to a Telegraph UK article he read the night before.

To include as many perspectives as possible, I reached out to a Spanish friend who I met in my sophomore year abroad in Warsaw, Poland, named Daniel Navarro. Daniel grew up in both Madrid and Catalonia before moving to Poland. Being a native Spaniard himself, he felt strongly on the issue. “My family and I are against it,” he stated. “International news is reporting what Catalonia is telling them, not what Spain is saying. It’s all lies.”

Daniel believes the split relates to patriotism, unlike what most news sources have been claiming. “Everyone says its for economic reasons, but after doing a study in my Economy class at school, we concluded with research that it would cost more money for them to split from Spain instead of staying with them.”

“I lived there,” Daniel said. “The majority does not want to split. But a group of them does, and that group is making a lot of noise which makes  it seem like it is the majority.”  

The personal impacts of this sudden desire for independence seem to have taken a harsh toll on students whose families opposed the split. “One of my parents’ friends’ kids are being bullied by not only kids, but also by teachers about this whole mess to the point that kids aren’t going to school,” Daniel said. “One of my friends didn’t go to school this week because the teachers were telling him that he was being ‘right wing’ by opposing this.”

The National Review reported that 90% of Catalans voted in favor of independence. Contrarily, Daniel told me, “According to El País (Spanish news source), there were twice or even five times more votes coming from a town than the amount of people living in that town. And people who don’t want the split aren’t voting which makes the poll extremely unreliable.”

Finally, Daniel brought democracy into the picture. “Let people know that Spain is being democratic. Catalonia is not being democratic. You cannot call such a poll democratic. You just can’t.”

Another native Spanish student, who desires to remain anonymous, said they were against Catalonia’s desire for independence, similarly to Daniel. A few other people around Hingham were delighted to speak about the issue, but did not want their opinions put in print. This desire for privacy highlights the seriousness and sensitivity around the subject of Catalan independence even in Hingham. Both Spanish classes’ perspectives also proved Hingham’s awareness of world politics, despite the town’s unanimous feel.

As a European conflict, for the better or the worse, the United States does not have much to do with it. With that said, the Spanish class debates in Hingham help students to form more worldly, educated opinions.

For the next few weeks, or perhaps years, the matter of Catalan independence poses an important question for the future of both Spain and Catalonia. The world, including Mr. Griffin and Mr. Shaw’s C block classes, will be watching.