Catalan independence: is there any hope for separatists five years after the referendum failed?

The day marking a historic defeat may seem like a strange point to herald the resurgence of the independence movement in Catalonia.

But for activist Emma Capote, it showed how Catalans are once again working to increase their appetite for secession from the Spanish state – five years after the failed independence referendum.

Waving their distinctive red, yellow and blue flags, tens of thousands of Catalans marched through Barcelona on their national day which marks the city’s fall to a military defeat by Spain in 1714.

“Popular support for independence is massive,” says Capote, a member of the Catalan National Assembly Committee (ANC), a grassroots grassroots campaigning group.

But her optimism has been marred by infighting between Catalonia’s pro-independence parties, which have a 51 percent majority in the regional parliament.

Internal disagreements over the strategy for secession from Spain — whether dialogue with Madrid or unilateral action — are undermining the independence movement, according to Capote.

“Our view is clear – we have a majority in the vote. Our government was elected with a mandate to implement independence, and it’s not happening,” Capote told Euronews.

“Internal divisions are perfect for the Spaniards. We believe that Catalonia can only achieve independence from one side.”

The ANC’s hard-line stance – to return Catalonia to a declaration of independence by 2024 – points to a split in Catalan politics after Referendum October 1, 2017.

The fateful ballot, which saw 90 percent of the electorate – or two million people – opt for independence with a turnout of 43 percent, was a “major defeat” for the Catalan movement, according to Dr. Andrew Dowling, a Spanish historian at Cardiff University.

Spain called the vote illegal and imposed direct rule on Catalonia to regain control.

But Dowling says many Catalans feel alienated from Spain after its response, which has included police violence, arrests of politicians and Spying on activists.

“Any solace that Spain can offer now is likely to be too late for Catalans who are psychologically separated from Spain,” Dowling says.

“Even if 40 percent of Catalans are in favor of independence, it is still a huge problem for Spain.”

the government poll in september It showed that about 52% of Catalans oppose independence and 41% support it – down from 49% in 2017.

However, Catalonia now finds itself divided – in Dowling’s words – “a government with two horses riding in different directions”.

“There was a reasonable degree of unity that kept the independent movement upward until the referendum,” he adds.

Divided politics in Catalonia

Catalonia, home to 7.7 million people in northeastern Spain, is ruled by a shaky coalition of pro-independence parties that have clashed over its strategy to break away from Spain.

Regional President Pierre Aragones, leader of the Republican Left of Catalonia, favored dialogue with Madrid, which angered coalition partner Juntes (Together for Catalonia).

Last week, the alliance narrowly escaped collapse after Perry Aragones sacked his deputy, Jordi Buenero – head of Juntas – without consulting other members of the government.

The row came after Aragones announced on Tuesday that he would seek permission from the Spanish capital to hold a referendum. The request was immediately rejected by Madrid.

“If the government has a united front and a clear plan, it will probably encourage more people to support the movement,” says Capote, whose pro-independence group, the African National Congress, is considering fielding candidates for future elections if the stalemate continues.

Identity under threat

Catalonia’s quest for independence can be traced back through the centuries, but current discussions center around its economy and identity.

The region is financially profitable and contributes about 19 percent of Spain’s GDP – the second highest after Madrid – but in 2022 the Spanish government allocated 17.2 percent of state funds to Catalonia in its budget.

“The Catalans feel that they are underfunded by the Spanish state,” says Ana Sofia Cardinal, professor of political science at the Open University of Catalonia.

She adds that the imbalance causes tension in the region, which faces some poor public services such as trains and roads, which need more funding.

In the meantime, some fear the Catalan language, which is spoken by most Catalans and which is seen as coming under attack.

In 2021, Spanish courts sparked outrage by ruling that a quarter of teaching in all schools in Catalonia must be in Spanish.

The decision clashed with a system of language immersion – in place for 36 years – which used Catalan in the classroom to protect the language that had been abolished under Franco’s dictatorship.

The Catalan government is appealing the court’s decision and has told schools they do not need to reach the 25 per cent Spanish-language teaching quota this year.

“The Catalans feel that they don’t have enough guarantees that they will be protected from the central state, they need some guarantees,” Cardinal says.

“This means that they cannot protect their language, finance, or services policies from outside interference.”

general support

Cardinal adds that rising energy costs due to the war in Ukraine mean that people are less involved in independence activism, which could provide an opportunity for Spain to discourage the movement.

“People are not motivated because they have more pressing problems,” Cardinal says.

“If there is real progress in solving some of the problems for the people of Catalonia we can see support for independence waning.”

Spain has made some efforts to appease Catalonia since the failed referendum.

Last year, the government ordered Partial pardon for 12 convicted Catalan separatists They were convicted for their role in the 2017 referendum.

But in Arenys de Munt, a small town 40 kilometers north of Barcelona, ​​opinions are divided about the quiet streets as those in the arcades of power.

“I am already 64 years old, and this will never happen in my life,” says shop owner Magda Artigas, who voted for independence in 2017.

Josep Luis Rodriguez, his former employer, is more optimistic but has expressed frustration with the government’s current direction.

“Obviously they are [the government] They are no longer explicitly interested in independence. Of course there is frustration and anger because they didn’t do what they should have done.”

“We are organized and when the time comes, we will move,” he adds.

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