Although Catalonia was first established as a separate entity in 11th century, it has also been a part of Spain since its emergence in the 15th century. Prior to nationalist uprising in the 19th century, Catalonia was tightly integrated with the Spanish state. Strong campaigning for political and cultural autonomy eventually led to broad autonomy in 1931, but Franco’s ultra-conservative rule entirely revoked previous developments in the region. The democratization of Spain in 1977 accompanied the resurgence of extensive autonomy, leading to the present-day establishment of the parliament and executive institutions.
Catalonia’s contribution to the Spanish economy is twice that of Scotland’s to the UK.
Evidently Catalan identity is distinct from that of Spain, but this appeared to be of secondary concern to the observed media outlets. The issue rather seems to be that Catalonia remains one of the richest and most highly industrialized regions of the country. Secession therefore threatens Spain with the loss of almost 20 percent of its economic output and a row on carving the sovereign’s 836 billion euro debt.
Until recently few Catalans supported the push for full independence. The turning point occurred at the 2010 Catalan autonomy protest against the limits set by the Spanish Constitutional Court to the autonomy of Catalonia. From thereon, several movements on citizen and municipality levels promoted both nationalism and right of self-determination.
A regional government backed by the two main separatist parties held an informal, non-binding vote on independence in 2014, with 80% of those taking part voting “yes”.
Source: “Catalonia profile – Overview”
The people have spoken
The 2015 Catalonian parliamentary election held on September 27 had a high turnout rate – 77%. The election was presented as a binding referendum on independence and became popularly seen as a victory for separatists. Two pro-independence parties – the CUP and Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes) – gained 48% of the votes, resulting in 72 seats out of the total 135 and the presidential seat. On the other hand, unionist lists received 39% of the votes and 52 seats. The success of separatists could therefore be questioned, as they were not able to secure even half of the total votes. The collaboration of the two pro-independence parties was also deemed problematic due to significant ideological differences.
“The standoff over the future of Catalonia — which accounts for a fifth of Spain’s economy — has become increasingly tense as both sides have raised the stakes in each round of the confrontation, and as both Mr. Rajoy and the head of Catalonia’s regional government, Artur Mas, have used the conflict to bolster their own standing in the face of political challenges.”
Independence in process
Despite the differences, the newly elected Parliament managed to adopt the Declaration of the Initiation of the Process of Independence of Catalonia on November 9, with 72 votes for to 63 against. However, Spanish national government still retains supremacy over Catalonia. Madrid went to the Constitutional Court to suspend the resolution of independence. Additionally, the EU discouraged any distortions in unity by threatening loss of membership and and economic benefits. Catalonia’s secession would set a precedent that a number of European countries would like to avoid (e.g. Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia).
American sources provided modest attention to the renewed push for Catalan independence. These events were represented as part of a longrunning and slowburning saga, the implications of which suggested a threat less immediate to the European investment market than developments such like the Portuguese political impasse. The continuing nature of the struggle was repeatedly stressed in media rhetoric and was seen as an uphill battle. Nevertheless, the idealism shined through with the implication on fight for freedom.
“We have the opportunity to create a new country,” Mr. Mas said. Catalonia, he argued, has reached a crossroads, facing a choice between “subordination and freedom.”
The issue was seen as both unpromising and undemocratic in German media. Feeling more sympathetic towards the Spanish government, news sources brought attention to the potential negative economic effects that secession could have on Catalonia itself:
“The one-sided termination of unity would not only contradict the constitution, but also be highly undemocratic. Furthermore, the separatists have lied to Catalonians about the consequences of the independence, as in claims that an independent Catalonia would be much richer if it did not have to pay money in the revenue sharing, which would supposedly lead to increase in pensions. But this has long been disproved – these are Catalonian castles in the air.”
Internal struggles in Catalan politics also contribute to a general German disbelief in the process, as Süddeutsche Zeitung mocks President Mas for incapability to even form a government:
“Artur Mas wants to enforce the independence of Catalonia, but cannot even become the head of government. Catalonian regional president Artur Mas failed in Parliament at Barcelona for the second time on Thursday while trying to be confirmed in his office.”
Source:“The Separatist Fails”
Despite acknowledgement of several justifying factors for the Catalan pursuit of independence, Russian media also remained critical. The potential losses of EU membership and common currency were seen as some of the most significant problems that people were not prepared for. Vesti.ru approached the issue from the Spanish point of view, which could also have been interpreted as disbelief. An expert interview even suggested that there was a lack consistency from the Catalan side that hindered chances for independence.
“Independence of Catalonia reminds me of Santa Claus. Once a year everyone remembers about it, discusses it, waits for it. Some people sincerely believe in it, but no-one has seen it.”
Lithuanian media emphasized concerns from the Spanish side of the issue. Madrid was portrayed as being irritated, confused and without a clear plan for coping with political crisis in the country. Lietuvos Rytas was the most vocal in depicting the Catalonia’s independence as being very likely to happen.
“Sooner or later the regional parliamentarians will ensure the path to independence – they have a majority. What will Spain do then?”
Lithuanian media outlets did not forget to discuss how the political fragmentation within the country could influence sport industry, particularly basketball and football.
“In the final match of the European Basketball Championship, Spain wiped out the Lithuanians and put on the golden crown. But soon the greatness of Spanish basketball can be destroyed by forces outside of basketball.”
Estonian media refrained from using terminology such as “separation” or “secession.” In the majority of cases, the pursuit of independence was mentioned. Such differentiation may have played a role in the subconscious of a former Soviet country, for the drive for independence would be seen as something a region had a right for, whereas separatism was more associated with the disruption of unity.
Nevertheless, media anticipation of a Court decision on the independence resolution portrayed the odds for successful outcome in a rather negative light, which was described by inconsistency and political battles.
“They do want independence. To deny that, one would have to be extremely Spain-minded. Nevertheless, the conditions are unfavorable and it seems that even Scotland has better chances of gaining independence than Catalonia.”