The Referendum of Catalonia
By Kunal Damaraju
Spain is currently facing one of their most heated political situations in recent history. For the past several years, the nation has been witnessing a long recession, where unemployment is at 25%, and, in 2013, approximately 79,306 Spanish nationals emigrated out of the country. To make matters worse, Spain has seen increasing support from residents and politicians in the region of Catalonia who are calling for the regions succession. Currently, Catalonia sits as the richest region in Spain, making up 18.8% of its GDP. However, several separatists believe that Catalonia is being anchored down by the economic disaster that Spain is experiencing. The region has several more reasons to be angry with the government in Madrid, including a 2006 statute that cut Catalonia’s public spending and limited power of the regional government. Years of debate and unrest has finally led Catalonia to call an unprecedented referendum.
Catalonia’s President Carles Puigdemont first called the referendum in June, later supported by Catalonia’s MPs in late July. The Parliament of Catalonia soon followed up with the notion and approved a law in September that allowed the referendum to take place. the government in Madrid, however, quickly criticized the decision and declared the motion unconstitutional through the Constitutional Court.
Spain's PM Mariano Rajoy has vowed that he would do everything in his power to make sure that a referendum would not be held. And he did not hold back his promise. Police raided government buildings, arresting officials, including Catalonian Secretary General of Economic Affairs Josep Maria Jove, who supported the scheduled referendum on October 1st. Police also seized posters that urged voters to vote in favor of succession. The unexpected raids sparked fiery protests and riots through the streets of Catalonia; in turn, the police responded with more violence and brute force. Rajoy condemned the protests on a televised statement, demanding that the protesters “Stop this escalation of radicalism and disobedience once and for all,
On the day of the referendum, the situation escalated as police were ordered to stop citizens from voting. Over 900 people were injured from police brutality, and more than 750,000 votes were not counted because the polling stations were shut down. Nevertheless, the referendum persisted, and a voting count was soon conducted after. Around 43% of the Catalonian population was able to vote, and of that 43%, about 90% voted in favor of secession. As expected, Madrid immediately declared that they would not accept the results of the referendum, reasoning that the referendum was illegal, and therefore the results were illegitimate.
Spain is in a troubling situation right now. If there is any chance of Catalonia seceding from Spain, then the nation can certainly expect an economic disaster. However, in the most likely scenario that Catalonia will not secede from Spain following this referendum, there can certainly be potential for more social unrest in the region. Catalonia remains as the nation's top contributor towards Spain's economy, so the direction of the outcome of this referendum will certainly affect both Spain and Catalonia, in terms of the economy and Spain’s status amongst European nations. It is up to the governments of Spain and Catalonia to come to a peaceful decision as soon as possible.
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