Koeun Lee



Maisie is InQuire’s website opinion editor. She welcomes all sorts of opinion pieces, from campus issues to international politics. She believes empowering student media is the first step to bringing changes, so Maisie will work with you to make your voice heard.

Spain has not had the easiest year. With a prime minister embroiled in a corruption scandal, high levels of poverty and unemployment, and faced with a national security crisis in the wake of the Barcelona terror attack, it’s not surprising that people are orienting themselves inwards and seeking confidence in what is most familiar to them: their home nation.

This urgent need for comfort was realised on October 1st when the Catalan regional government held a referendum on whether the region wanted to separate from Spain. In a day fraught with boycotts, demonstrations, and militant crackdowns from the Civil Guard, it is believed 43% of Catalans voted, with 90% of this turnout in favour of independence. In response, the Spanish national government threatened, and are now invoking article 155 of the constitution, with Spain’s prime minister Mariano Rajoy declaring that he is doing so as to “restore the rule of law, coexistence, the economic recovery and so that elections could be held in normal circumstances.” The article allows the national government to use any means necessary to force semi-autonomous regions like Catalonia to follow the state’s laws.

The problem with this referendum, however, is not the potential illegality with which it was pushed through, but how the Spanish national government have responded to Catalonia’s efforts to flex its little freedom. The Civil Guard is now summoning directors of media who published referendum campaign advertisements to face questioning. The prime minister is stripping the region of its government powers as well as imprisoning two pro-Catalan independence leaders, Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixart, both of whom have been denied bail at the time of writing. This systematic, militant response offers a perfect example of why Catalonia went to such an effort for this referendum, in that it feels it is being overly controlled by the state.

One of the greatest ironies of the national government’s response is that Mr Rajoy has defended his extraordinary decision to invoke article 155 because, “no democratic government can tolerate that the law be violated.” It appears that Mr Rajoy believes allowing people to exercise their rights – free speech, their right to vote, and their right to demonstrate – can exist only in the boundaries of his own political leaning. Whilst the present writer could be pushed to agree that articles such as 155 are sometimes necessary, the writer cannot fathom how Madrid believes it necessary to implement such an extreme response to a region that merely seeks to hold a constitutional vote. A repression of such freedom is also likely to give Mr Rajoy even more of a headache in that there will certainly be a backlash to his aggressive invocation of the article.

The Catalan leader, Carles Puigdemont, has repeatedly asked the Spanish government to enter discussions as to how the region – whose population makes up 16% of Spain’s entire population of 46 million – could gain further sovereignty. In light of this, it is clear how Mr Rajoy’s refusal to allow such a negotiation is the cause for the biggest national crisis since the reintroduction of democracy in 1977. In his refusal to listen or work with the Catalan government, the prime minister has created a whirlpool of frustration and anger directed at him from those who are fed up with not being listened to. Mr Rajoy does not have a leg to stand on in that Catalonia repeatedly tried to discuss its desires within the framework of the state’s constitution. It was his refusal to democratically work with the region that has led to the referendum and subsequent separatism.

A student from University of Kent who was born in Catalonia before moving to the UK with her family told us ‘a few years ago I was concerned that the independence movement was a move to a more totalitarian Catalonia, which is not something I wanted. But as the movement has grown I’ve become more and more frustrated with Spain’s inability to listen and work with us Catalonians in our efforts to support ourselves as a separate region. I would most like to live in harmony, but right now I’m definitely supporting Catalonian independence.”

This frustration that Catalonians hold against the national government does not look like it will be going away any time soon. The sooner Madrid recognises this, then the sooner they will be able to create a measured and reasonable means for discussion that will pave the way for negotiations between the two sides. Until then, the militant response led by Mr Rajoy will continue to create chaos across not just Catalonia, but the entirety of Spain.

Editor’s note: Follow-ups on Catalonia updates to come soon.