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Lesson for India: Why Catalonians think secession from Spain would help them better protect their language, culture

By Sadhan Mukherjee*
The Spanish police tried every trick to halt the Catalonian referendum for secession on Sunday. Over 761 Catalonians were arrested, ballot boxes and voting papers were seized but the voting could not be stopped. Police resorted to baton charge and fired rubber bullets to stop the voters. More than 800 people were injured.
Still nearly 90% of voters comprising of 40% of registered voters cast their votes favouring secession from Spain. There is no doubt that Catalonians exercised their democratic right for self-determination with vigour despite repression. Spanish Prime Minister Rajos called the referendum “illegal” and refused to accept the Catalonian verdict.
If the Catalonian state legislature declares independence in terms of the verdict of referendum, Rajos will have to resign. His party has no majority in the Cortes Generales (Parliament).
If the Catalonian independence is achieved, it will boost to other autonomous regions of Spain, notably the Basque region where the independence movement is quite strong.
There are other peoples who will draw sustenance from Catalonian independence, like the Kurds whose positive referendum of September 25 is vehemently opposed by Iraq. There are other movements like in Eritrea, East Timor and the movement for Scottish independence, not to talk about a number of separatist movements in India itself.
The Catalonians want to secede from Spain for various reasons. They feel that being a part of Spain has made them a subject of wanton exploitation and injustice.
Their anger is not misplaced. Catalonia pays more in taxes than it receives from Madrid in investments and transfers. According to official data in 2014, Catalonia paid 9.89 Euros more than what it received from Spain. This amount was equivalent to 5% of Catalonian GDP.
The official investment in Catalonia also dropped. As against 16% in 2003, it has come down to 9.5% in the 2015 draft national budget.
Another point of irritation is that according to Catalonian regional government, an independent Catalonia world be richer and better able to protect its language and culture.
Catalonia has been fighting for its freedom for a long time. It was wantonly suppressed under General Franco’s regime. However under the 1978 Constitution, it was granted autonomy and its powers were enlarged in the 2006 Spanish Statute which also described Catalonia as a “nation”. But in 2010, the Spanish Constitutional Court reversed much of these powers.
In 2014 Catalonia held a symbolic vote on independence. More than 80% (1.8 million people) voted in favour but only 37% turned out to vote. But next year, separatist parties secured absolute majority in the regional assembly and in November that year the lawmakers passed resolution. This was again struck down by the constitutional court.
But Catalonia has enough reasons for demanding independence. Its total population is 7.5 million, nearly as big as Switzerland. It has its own distinct language and culture.
In terms of land area, it is as big as Belgium and comprises 6.3% of Spain’s territory. It is the richest part of Spain, accounting for 16% of its population and 19% of Spanish GDP.
At the same time, it is Spain’s most indebted region with a debt burden of 7.4 billion Euros.
The next few days for Spain will be of great importance.

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*Veteran journalist

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