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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Divisional excuses

The battle for independence is not always the righteous one

It feels like every few years, citizens in highly partisan states, such as Texas or California, propose movements to break away from the United States and form a separate country.  These movements are usually discarded as activist propaganda, but one region in Spain has taken this rhetoric and transformed it into action in the past few years. Catalonia declared independence last month from the rest of the country following an unconstitutional regional referendum.

While this declaration has created a large amount of turmoil within Spain, the movement reaches across their borders, posing an opportunity for separatist movements around the world.

In Spain, a national government oversees the entire country, but the country is broken up into 17 autonomous communities. These regions, while not acting entirely on their own, maintain a high degree of control over their citizens and each contains its own right to govern themselves, as long as they don’t supersede or conflict with national law.

Catalonia, the region that is home to Barcelona, is very wealthy compared to Spain as a whole—it is one of the wealthiest region in the country and makes up 1/5 of the total economic output for Spain—and some citizens in this region feel that, because of this, Catalonia shouldn’t have to comply with Spanish policy. Many believe it unfairly limits them economically, so several Catalan leaders have taken efforts to break away from Spain.

Some Catalan citizens use cultural differences between their region and the rest of the country as reasoning for their  proposed secession from Spain—and this is true to some degree. For example, they do speak a different language, Catalan rather than Spanish; however, every region has different characteristics that make it unique. But, these differences are not a valid reason for secession.

The pro-secession leaders also claim that they deserve independence because they say they have been oppressed—which, again, is true to some degree since they have been oppressed by leaders in Spain’s past such as Francisco Franco and his dictatorial regime. Since the downfall of Franco and the 1979 Statute of Autonomy, however, they are no longer prosecuted based on their cultural differences.

Using historical oppression as a reason for secession is also not a valid  excuse. Most of Europe has at one point faced oppression, but it’s people continue to work towards strengthening relationships while respecting cultural differences.

While the statute of 1979 decreased tension following the reign of Franco, the past few years have seen a resurgence of separatist movements in Spain. Over the last few months, now ex-President of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, started the secession process by announcing on that the region would hold a referendum—a vote where citizens can vote directly on an issue—for independence on June 9.

Spain’s government initially declared this act as unconstitutional, but no concrete action was taken against it. It wasn’t until Puigdemont and the Catalan parliament declared independence on Oct. 27 that this issue truly escalated. Following the  announcement, Mariano Rajoy—the president of Spain—and his government invoked Article 155, an unprecedented move removing the leaders of Catalonia and imposing direct rule of the central government over the region.

While the government’s interference during the referendum can certainly be considered too aggressive, their reaction to the constitutional violation of declaring independence was more than justified, and necessary, to maintain stability in the country.  If a state in the U.S. tried to break away from the union, the government would not stand by idly; they would intervene.

Rajoy’s implementation of direct rule has since led to increased stability in the country; however, serious global implications following this referendum remain prevalent.

In Scotland, for example, many members of the Scottish National Party (SNP) have advocated independence from the UK. This crisis in Catalonia has further inflamed the tensions already existing in this region

Another division can be seen in Belgium. Following the announcement that the Spanish government would arrest some of the separatist leaders, Puigdemont fled to Belgium. In Belgium, there are two predominant groups: the northern Dutch-speaking and the southern French-speaking governments. In the Flemish nationalist party—located in the Dutch region—some have taken this referendum as an excuse to encourage independence movements.

These are just a few examples of separatist movements in Europe, but they also exist across the globe. It can be easy to sympathize with the Catalan citizens due to their desire for independence—after all, America was founded on the Declaration of Independence and an escape from tyrannical rulers—but the situation in Catalonia is not one of oppression. In Catalonia and around the world, we must remember to celebrate our cultural differences and not let them become an excuse to divide us.

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