Defying Spanish Government, Catalonia Pushes Forward Independence Bid

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Defying Spanish Government, Catalonia Pushes Forward Independence Bid

With Catalan people calling for independence, the region's leaders "press ahead" with secession vote

A man waves the Estelada flag at a recent rally for independence in Barcelona. (Photo: Ariet/flickr/cc)

The leader of the Spanish region of Catalonia has set up a panel to supervise a contested independence referendum next month, despite the opposition of Spain's central government, which has gone to the courts to block the vote.

Spain's constitutional court said on Monday it would review the legality of the independence vote, effectively suspending it. José Manuel García-Margallo, Spain's Foreign Minister, had previously told journalists that his government would use "all means necessary" to stop the planned referendum, currently scheduled for November 9.

But Catalonia's leaders, cognizant of the majority's pro-independence stance, appear determined to push forward. 

On Thursday evening, Catalan president Artur Mas appointed a seven-member committee to oversee the referendum ballot, the local government said in a statement.

And according to the BBC, Mas and the representatives of the four parliamentary groups that support self-determination on Friday "reiterated their intention to press ahead."

Observers say independence-minded Catalans were energized by Scotland's recent independence campaign. At a rally in September, demonstrators waved Scottish flags alongside the Estelada—an unofficial flag typically flown by Catalan separatists.

But there are many other factors at play. The semi-autonomous region of Catalonia is located in the northeastern part of the country and is home to 7.5 million people who represent about 16 percent of the Spanish population and account for 19 percent of Spain’s gross domestic product. It has its own language and culture, as well as long-standing tensions with the rest of Spain.

In an op-ed published Wednesday in the LA Times, American ex-pat in Catalonia, William Cole, described how the fight for independence has evolved over 20 years. "Although many Catalans have long nurtured dreams of independence, until recently only a few marginal cranks made a big deal of it," he wrote. "Even committed nationalists went about their prosperous lives more or less contentedly, regarding the rest of Spain as something between a nuisance and a joke."

Cole continued:

But the landscape has changed dramatically since the financial crisis began several years ago. Rampant unemployment, government corruption and incompetence, and a huge fiscal deficit (the difference between what Catalans pay in taxes and what they get back in government funding) have radicalized many Catalans. Even the traditionally center-right party of Catalan leader Artur Mas, who is spearheading the independence movement, did not openly support independence until a few years ago.

Add to that a general sense that most Spaniards, far from appreciating the Catalans for contributing more than their fair share, actually despise and ridicule them. Catalans feel humiliated and are furious, and show up in enormous numbers at demonstrations for independence.

Reuters reports that "Mas is due to meet pro-independence parties in Barcelona on Friday to decide strategy following the court ruling. Political analysts have said Mas was likely to call early regional elections, turning it into a de-facto plebiscite on secession."

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