Catalonia: Catalan Independence Referendum, October 1st 2017

The regional Government of Catalonia has set a referendum on Catalan independence for 1 October 2017. This referendum was first called for in June 2017 and was approved by the Catalan parliament in a session on 6 September 2017 along with a law which states that independence would be binding with a simple majority, without requiring a minimum turnout. Opposition parties refused to participate in the session and have called on their voters to boycott the vote, except Catalunya Sí que es Pot who abstained but supports participation. The law is illegal according to the Catalan Statutes of autonomy which require a two third majority in the Catalan parliament for any change to Catalonia’s status. The referendum itself is also illegal according to the Spanish constitution. It was suspended by the Constitutional Court on 7 September 2017, with the Catalan government stating the court order was not valid for Catalonia and proceeding to gather the support of 750 of 948 municipalities of Catalonia including a partial support by Barcelona. This led to a constitutional crisis in Spain.

Coat Of Arms
The Government of Spain opposes any Catalan self-determination referendum, maintaining that the Spanish Constitution does not allow for a vote on the independence of any Spanish region while also deeming it illegal without its consent; an interpretation also favoured by the Catalan Statutory Guarantees Council.

On the other hand, the Catalan government invokes the right to self-determination for calling the referendum. So far, the Catalan government has tried but failed to get international support; in particular, Spain’s European partners see Catalonia’s status as a strictly internal matter.

Protests in Barcelona after Spanish police raided Catalan government buildings, 20 September 2017
Following a constitutionality check demanded by the Spanish government, the Constitutional Court of Spain annulled the resolution emanated by the Parliament of Catalonia to hold such a vote. The Government of Catalonia, though, maintains that the vote will still be held on 1 October.

Ballot paper that the Catalan government intends to use in the referendum, in Catalan, Castilian Spanish and Aranese Occitan, the three official languages of Catalonia.
The Catalan government had aimed to thwart legal action on behalf of the Spanish government by rushing a referendum law through its own parliament, by simple majority, in September declaring that it would then follow a “Catalan-only” legality (as opposed to the general Spanish one). Spain’s deputy prime minister, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, had notified the Catalan government in advance that the state would strike down the referendum law right after it was passed
The Catalan Government announced it planned to hold the referendum on 1 October 2017.

Eligibility to vote
The following people are, according to the Catalan government, entitled to vote in the referendum:

Those who have the political condition of Catalan, are 18 years of age or older on the voting day, are not under any of the situations that legally deprive the right to vote and are on the electoral roll.
Those Catalans currently residing abroad and who have their last residence in Catalonia, fulfil all the legal requirements, and have formally applied to take part in the voting process.
Electoral supervision
The Electoral Commission of Catalonia was responsible for overseeing the referendum.

The question of the referendum is “Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?”.

Pro-independence flags in Barcelona
Back Ground

Catalonia (Catalan: Catalunya, Occitan: Catalonha, Spanish: Cataluña)b is an autonomous community of Spain located on the northeastern extremity of the Iberian Peninsula. It is designated as a nationality by its Statute of Autonomy. Catalonia consists of four provinces: Barcelona, Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona. The capital and largest city is Barcelona, the second-most populated municipality in Spain and the core of the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union.

Catalonia comprises most of the territory of the former Principality of Catalonia (with the remainder Roussillon now part of France’s Pyrénées-Orientales). It is bordered by France and Andorra to the north, the Mediterranean Sea to the east, and the Spanish autonomous communities of Aragon to the west and Valencia to the south. The official languages are Catalan, Spanish, and the Aranese dialect of Occitan.

In the late 8th century, the counties of the March of Gothia and the Hispanic March were established by the Frankish kingdom as feudatory vassals across and near the eastern Pyrenees as a defensive barrier against Muslim invasions. The eastern counties of these marches were united under the rule of the Frankish vassal the Count of Barcelona, and were later called Catalonia. In 1137, Catalonia and the Kingdom of Aragon were united by marriage under the Crown of Aragon, and the Principality of Catalonia became the base for the Crown of Aragon’s naval power and expansionism in the Mediterranean. In the later Middle Ages Catalan literature flourished. Between 1469 and 1516, the King of Aragon and the Queen of Castile married and ruled their kingdoms together, retaining all their distinct institutions, Courts (parliament), and constitutions. During the Franco-Spanish War (1635–1659), Catalonia revolted (1640–1652) against a large and burdensome presence of the Royal army in its territory, becoming a republic under French protection. Within a brief period France took full control of Catalonia, at a high economic cost for Catalonia, until it was largely reconquered by the Spanish army. Under the terms of the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659, which ended the wider Franco-Spanish War, the Spanish Crown ceded the northern parts of Catalonia, mostly incorporated in the county of Roussillon, to France. During the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714), the Crown of Aragon sided against the Bourbon Philip V of Spain, whose subsequent victory led to the abolition of non-Castilian institutions in all of Spain and the replacement of Latin and other languages (such as Catalan) with Spanish in legal documents.

In the nineteenth century, Catalonia was severely affected by the Napoleonic and Carlist Wars. In the second half of the century Catalonia experienced industrialisation. As wealth from the industrial expansion grew, Catalonia saw a cultural renaissance coupled with incipient nationalism while several workers movements appeared. In 1914, the four Catalan provinces formed a Commonwealth, and with the return of democracy during the Second Spanish Republic (1931–1939), the Generalitat of Catalonia was restored as an autonomous government. After the Spanish Civil War, the Francoist dictatorship enacted repressive measures, abolishing Catalan institutions and banning the official use of the Catalan language again. From the late 1950s through to the early 1970s, Catalonia saw rapid economic growth, drawing many workers from across Spain, making Barcelona one of Europe’s largest industrial metropolitan areas and turning Catalonia into a major tourist destination. Since the Spanish transition to democracy (1975–1982), Catalonia has regained some political and cultural autonomy and is now one of the most economically dynamic communities of Spain.

Industrialisation and civil war era
At the beginning of the nineteenth century Catalonia was severely affected by the Napoleonic and Carlist Wars. In the latter half of the 19th century, it became an industrial center. This process was boosted, among other reasons, by national protectionist laws that boosted the Catalan industry at the expense of limiting free trade for the rest of Spain and Caribbean colonies (especially Cuba and Puerto Rico) and the conditions of proto-industrialization of the last two centuries of the Catalan urban areas and its countryside. To this day it remains one of the most industrialised parts of Spain. During those years, Barcelona was the focus of important revolutionary uprisings, while the Catalan language saw a cultural renaissance (the Renaixença).

Tragic Week, 1909.
The Anarchists had been active throughout the early 20th century, achieving the first eight-hour workday in Europe in 1919. In the first third of the 20th century, Catalonia gained and lost varying degrees of autonomy several times. In 1914, the four Catalan provinces were authorized to create a Commonwealth (Mancomunitat), without any legislative power or specific autonomy, that was disbanded in 1925 by the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera. After the fall of the dictator and a brief proclamation of the Catalan Republic, it received its first Statute of Autonomy during the Second Spanish Republic (1931), establishing an autonomous body, the Generalitat of Catalonia, which included a parliament, a government and a court of appeal, and the left-wing independentist leader Francesc Macià was elected its first President. The governments of the Republican Generalitat tried to implement an advanced social program. This period was marked by political unrest and the preeminence of Revolutionary Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939).

Proclamation of the Republic in Barcelona on 14 April 1931.
Under Franco’s rule (1939–1975)
The defeat of the Second Spanish Republic in the Spanish Civil War brought fascist Francisco Franco to power. His regime imposed linguistic, political and cultural restrictions across Spain. In Catalonia, any kind of public activities associated with Catalan nationalism, republicanism, anarchism, socialism, liberalism, democracy or communism, including the publication of books on those subjects or simply discussion of them in open meetings, was banned.

Bombing of Barcelona (1938).
Franco’s regime banned the use of Catalan in government-run institutions and during public events, and also the Catalan institutions of self-government were abolished. The pro-Republic of Spain President of Catalonia, Lluís Companys, was taken to Spain from his exile in the German-occupied France, and was tortured and executed in the Montjuïc Castle of Barcelona for the crime of ‘military rebellion’.

During later stages of Francoist Spain, certain folkloric and religious celebrations in Catalan resumed and were tolerated. Use of Catalan in the mass media had been forbidden, but was permitted from the early 1950s in the theatre. Despite the ban during the first years and the difficulties of the next period, publishing in Catalan continued throughout his rule.
The years after the war were extremely hard. Catalonia, like many other parts of Spain, had been devastated by the war. Recovery from the war damage was slow and made more difficult by the international trade embargo against Franco’s regime. By the late 1950s the country had recovered its pre-war economic levels and in the 1960s was the second fastest growing economy in the world in what became known as the Spanish miracle. During this period there was a spectacular growth of industry and tourism in Catalonia that drew large numbers of workers to the region from across Spain and made the area around Barcelona into one of Europe’s largest industrial metropolitan areas.

Contemporary era (1975–2014)

Supporters of Catalan independence in 2012.
After Franco’s death in 1975, Catalonia voted for the adoption of a democratic Spanish Constitution in 1978, in which Catalonia recovered political and cultural autonomy, restoring the Generalitat (exiled since the end of the Civil War in 1939) in 1977 and adopting a new Statute of Autonomy in 1979. Today, Catalonia is one of the most economically dynamic communities of Spain. The Catalan capital and largest city, Barcelona, is a major international cultural centre and a major tourist destination. In 1992, Barcelona hosted the Summer Olympic Games.

The new Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia, approved after a referendum in 2006, was contested by important sectors of the Spanish society, especially by the conservative Popular Party, which sent the law to the Constitutional Court of Spain. In 2010, the Court declared non valid some of the articles that established an autonomous Catalan system of Justice, better aspects of the financing, a new territorial division, the status of Catalan language or the symbolical declaration of Catalonia as a nation. This decision was severely contested by large sectors of Catalan society, which increased the demands of independence.

The democratic debate for independence (2014-present)

“L’Estelada Blava” (The Blue Starred Flag), the blue version of the pro-independence flag.

Demonstration in Bilbao, Basque Country in solidarity with Catalan independence referendum, 16 September 2017
On 9 November 2015, Catalan lawmakers approved a plan for secession from Spain by 2017 with a majority vote 72 to 63. The plan was suspended by the Spanish Constitutional Court, but the Catalan government has insisted that it will complete the plan despite the suspension. On 9 June 2017, the Catalan government announced that an independence referendum would be held 1 October 2017. However, Spanish courts have declared the referendum to be illegal, and the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Catalonia has ordered the seizure of paraphernalia related to the referendum, including ballots, ballot boxes and promotional materials.

On 20 September 2017, eleven days prior to the referendum date, the Civil Guard mounted an operation to raid the offices of government ministries and detain officials involved in the referendum, which resulted in large protests by supporters.

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