Independence crisis: How we got here


Hours before Catalan President Carles Puigdemont is due to make his next move — unilaterally declare independence and risk the wrath of Madrid, accept some form of mediation, or something in between — we take a look at the events that led up to the current situation.

Catalans have their own language, which is based on the romance Latin-based tongues of southern Europe but is quite different from Spanish, which was influenced by the Arabs who ruled huge swathes of medieval Spain. Several times during its history, Catalonia has found itself caught between the rivalries of France and Spain.

The region industrialized before the rest of Spain and had strong anarchist, socialist and communist movements that all fought against General Francisco Franco in the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil war.

Catalan independence vote caps four centuries of mistrust

The current dispute goes back to that conflict. Franco, the victor, repressed Catalonia’s earlier limited autonomy, and in the early years of the dictatorship at least, expressions of Catalan language and culture. It wasn’t until four years after Franco’s death in 1979 that the region regained some of that autonomy.

In 2006, the Spanish government backed Catalonia’s calls for even greater powers, granting “nation” status and financial control to the region. But four years later, the Constitutional Court rescinded that status, ruling that while Catalan is a “nationality,” Catalonia itself is not a nation.

One of Spain’s 17 autonomous provinces, Catalonia has its own regional government with considerable powers over healthcare, education and tax collection. But it pays taxes to Madrid, and pro-independence politicians argue that complex mechanisms for redistributing tax revenue are unfair to wealthier areas, something that has helped stoke resentment. 

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The region accounts for a fifth of Spain’s economy producing 25% of the country’s exports. It contributes much more in taxes (21% of the country’s total) than it gets back from the government.

In a symbolic poll in 2014, 80% of Catalan voters backed complete secession — but only 32% of the electorate turned out.

Puigdemont declared a new referendum on October 1, 2017, but the Spanish constitutional court declared it illegal. Puigdemont went ahead anyway.

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