Catalonia history and referendum, explained

What's at stake in Catalonia's referendum for independence, and how did they get there?


NSFW    BARCELONA — On October 1, 2017, Catalonia voted for independence, despite massive opposition from the central Spanish government.

BBC reports that the northeast region of Catalonia is one of Spain's 17 autonomous communities. It's home to 7.5 million people, and has its own distinct language, history, and culture.

Catalonia was once under the kingdom of Aragon, which unified with Castile in the 15th century. It remained a state until it was defeated in the 1714 Siege of Barcelona, and its sovereignty was abolished. Under the newly centralized Spanish realm, Catalans were forced to adopt the Castilian language and customs.

The region regained autonomy when Spain became a republic in 1931, but lost it again during the Franco dictatorship. Franco's death restored democracy, allowing Catalonia to have its own Parliament, police force, and education system.

Though they have a high degree of autonomy, Catalans are not satisfied with the central government.

As Spain's wealthiest region, it generates 20% of the national GDP. But high budget cuts during the 2008 financial crisis, and complaints of paying more taxes than they get back have increased separatist sentiment.

The Brookings Institute reports that in 2010, the Spanish Constitutional Court reversed a 2006 ruling that granted the region 'nation' status and its own tax system, angering many and fueling the movement for independence.

This movement culminated in the October 1 referendum, which Madrid has called illegal.

A Catalonian secession would impact the Spanish economy, but also see the region out of the EU. With no free trade, the region's economy could shrink, and the unemployment rate could double.

But do all Catalans want independence? Polls taken before the referendum showed that while 70% wanted the right to vote, only 41% sought independence.

Still, Madrid's response was aggressive. It arrested Catalan leaders, and took down websites and apps in an effort to thwart the vote.

On the day of the referendum, violence erupted as police seized ballots, and forcibly stopped people from voting. Despite the danger, voter turnout was at 42.3%, with nearly 90% of those who voted backing secession.

Catalan's president has said he will declare independence within 48 hours if the 'yes' side won. If this happens, Spain will enter a constitutional crisis and may be forced to suspend Catalonia's autonomy.
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