As Spanish democracy is grappling with its fourth election in four years, a new wave of civil unrest has brought the successionist struggles of Catalonia back into international discourse. Successionist and populist movements are creating conflict between the autonomous Catalonian state and the federal government of Madrid. The current bout of civil unrest has hinged on political differences and economic greed. Ignited in September 2012, pro-separatist protests attracted 1,000,000 demonstrators who arrived at Barcelona’s doorstep with demands of succession. These resulted in the revocation of Catalonian autonomy in 2017 by the Spanish government, a decision which was not reversed until June 2018. The ongoing clash between federal and regional politicians has evolved into its current adversarial form; as recently as October 14, 2019, 13 high level Catalonian politicians were charged with sedition and misuse of funds, inflaming the discord and domestic Spanish political discourse and policy making.
Separatists argue that the actions of the Spanish government are repressive and punitive. International law agrees with this. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has declared that the detention of the officials imprisoned is in violation of international law. Further, the impact is spreading beyond Spanish borders. The Spanish example as a former hegemonic state and European power is encouraging and enabling dangerous conduct by other officials. Most recently, the Turkish home affairs minister cited the relationship between Spain and Catalonia as justification to persecute Kurdish officials. By undermining their own domestic law (specifically, the apparent fluidity of Catalonian autonomy), they are putting themselves in a state of subversion. The political strategies being used are inherently harmful and are negatively changing the overall Spanish political climate. Many separatist advocates and officials have opted to flee from Spain and seek refuge abroad in countries where extradition requests by Barcelona have been routinely denied.
Economic struggles have always underpinned Catalan calls for independence. The most obvious rationale for Spain to maintain control over the Catalonian region is overarchingly economic. For the same fiscal reasons Spain wants to retain Catalonia, Catalonia should have the ability to leave. By losing Catalonia, Spain loses 19% of the GDP, 20% of foreign investment, 25% of exports, and 16% of the total population. This is no small loss. Catalonia is uniquely positioned as it is simultaneously economically important while remaining a linguistic and cultural minority with its own unique history; characteristics that are usually cited for independence. It does not help the federal government that when under Franco, a physical and cultural genocide was undertaken, yet in 2019, their jurisdiction permitted a neo-Francoist party to take an active role in legal proceedings against Catalan officials. The obvious bias on federal and judiciary levels in the inclusion of neo-Francoist participation and suspension of autonomy is revealing concerning the dissonance between law and application in the Catalonian context.
The cultural, linguistic, and ethic differences unique to Catalonia that would encourage its statehood are subverted by Spain for the purpose of fiscal gain. This has been repeatedly evidenced by the actions of the Spanish government and their subversion of international and domestic laws. There are few legitimate reasons for the Spanish government to maintain their retention of Catalonia. Similar to a wide array of contemporary issues, the root causes are money and greed, which overpower the voices of the public.
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