Catalan Independence Explained: The Whos, Whys, And Hows Of The Spanish Region’s Breakaway Movement

What's going on in Catalonia

The Catalan independence vote is one of the biggest news stories to come out of Europe in years. Unfortunately, the reasons behind the movement, and the ramifications of the vote, involve thorny and complicated issues that are lost on many news readers outside of Europe. Here, now, is a general explanation of the significance of the Catalan independence vote and what it means for the future of Spain.

What Is Catalonia?

Catalonia is a semi-autonomous region of Spain, in the far eastern corner, bordering the Mediterranean Sea on the south, and the Pyrenees Mountains (and borders with France and Andorra) on the east. The capital and largest city is Barcelona, and about 7.5 million people call the region home.

The word “Catalan” is an adjective describing the region (“Catalan” summers, for example) or people (“Catalans”). Similarly, Catalan is, depending on whom you ask, either a dialect of Spanish or a distinct language unto itself, with the same roots as Spanish.

Why Does Catalonia Want To Be Independent?

The roots of the Catalan separatist movement go back centuries, before Spain as a nation-state even existed, and when the part of the Iberian Peninsula now called “Spain” was more of a loose collection of affiliated kingdoms — Catalonia being one of them.

Under dictator Francisco Franco’s rule (1939-1975), Catalonia’s limited autonomy was brutally suppressed, according to CNN, including harsh punishments for speaking, using, or teaching the Catalan language.

Decades later, Spain is facing a different crisis. Namely, the country is in dire economic straits. Catalonia, meanwhile, is relatively well-off compared to the rest of Spain. What’s more, the income and taxes raised by Catalonia are confiscated and re-distributed to the rest of Spain, a situation with which most Catalans aren’t comfortable.

What Does The Independence Referendum Actually Mean?

That is largely a matter of whom you ask. The Spanish government, for its part, refuses to recognize that the vote even took place. And, in fact, Spanish police and Catalan voters engaged in violent clashes as Madrid tried to suppress the “illegal” referendum.

According to Spain’s constitution, Madrid has the right to effectively prevent any region in Spain from breaking away from the country.

However, with some 90 percent of the Catalan voters who risked arrest to vote “Yes” on independence, the matter is far from settled.

What will happen next is anyone’s guess. According to Juice Brighton, the region is facing general strikes and mass protests in the weeks ahead, plunging Spain into a constitutional crisis. Ultimately, the European Union or the United Nations may step in.

Needless to say, the outcome of the Catalan Independence vote is far from settled.

[Featured Image by Felipe Dana/AP Images]