I’m not entirely sure how much coverage this situation got in the New Zealand media, but at the very least after the last few months I am sure that you will have heard about Catalonia and their attempt at independence. I am not a journalist or even studying journalism but after reading some of the reports from the BBC and other international media outlets I thought I would add my opinion of what has been going on, as someone who is living in Spain as it is happening.
I guess the best place to start when considering recent events is the referendum that was held on the 1st of October in Catalonia (for those who do not know Catalonia is one of the regions of Spain with Barcelona as its capital). Personally, I almost forgot the referendum about the referendum, with so much going on at uni and a number of deadlines fast approaching, it wasn’t until minutes before 6pm that I checked in on the progress. I was incredibly shocked to see a number of reports about the police brutality, particularly in Barcelona. After speaking with a few people in my residence about what we were seeing on TV it was pretty clear that none of us knew the explanation for the violence. What we did find out in class a few days later was that the referendum had been declared illegal by the Constitutional Court of Spain in September as it was in breach of the 1978 constitution – which the Catalan people voted in favour of at the time. Not only had the referendum been declared illegal by Spain, but the High Court of Justice of Catalonia had also given orders to the police to prevent the referendum, which included orders for the arrest of various individuals who had helped to organise it. These orders were not followed by the Catalan police, with videos being posted on the internet showing police officers walking past voting stations, waving and smiling. It is for this reason that the Spanish Civil Guard was deployed to carry out the orders that the Catalan police ignored. Based on the way that I have seen these facts represented in the media I believe that the Catalans played a much smarter game in regards to media coverage, almost every article that I read had the Catalans looking like the victims and the Spanish government portrayed as the oppressor.
Not only was the referendum illegal, it also did not meet the minimum international standards for elections. We found video footage showing people bringing the – supposedly empty – ballot boxes into one of the voting stations before the start of the referendum. This footage shows one of the ballot boxes being dropped and rather than being empty a whole sheath of voting papers fell out, all marked in favour of independence. Usually in a referendum or vote there is only one ballot per person and you are signed up to vote in a specific station, however during the Catalan referendum, the electorate were able to vote at any voting station and print the ballot at home to bring to voting stations; this resulted in there being no limit to the number of ballots one person was able to post in the ballot boxes.
The question on the ballot to which voters could answer “Yes” or “No” was “Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a Republic?”. According to the official results of the referendum the “Yes” side won with 92.01% of the votes. However, when everything that we were seeing in the news is taken into consideration along with less than 50% voter turnout with a high proportion of the “No” voters not attending due to being asked not to by the constitutional parties, doubt is cast on the validity of the result.
What I heard from a few of my classmates with family in Catalonia is that their family had voted “Yes” during the referendum and at the time strongly believed that Catalonia both had the right to be an independent state and that it should be one now, were beginning to doubt in their decision. It only became clear after the referendum that if Catalonia claims their independence from Spain they will no longer be part of the European Union and that they will not be recognised as a country by the United Nations. This fact was made even more real by the round 1400 businesses that pulled out of Catalonia in the aftermath of the referendum and the sudden spike in unemployment that this caused. Historically and still today Catalonia is one of the most affluent and successful regions in Spain. The fact that they have always had to pay more taxes to the state because of this has always been a point of contention for the Catalans. They see themselves as a different nation, first Catalan and second – if at all – Spanish.
The question that I heard over and over during the course of the last few months and the one I want to leave you with is: does every nation have the right to its own state? As an extension of this question: Should the Catalans be allowed independence from Spain?
If you want to discuss this further or have any questions about and exchange in Spain feel free to send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.