Chatham House

Carles Puigdemont

Journalist and politician, Carles Puigdemont i Casamajó became president of the Government of Catalonia in 2016. His term was a relatively short one by leaving his charge in 2017, when he was dismissed by the Spanish Central Government after an unilateral declaration of Independence. Nowadays, he lives in Belgium, being sought by Spain on charges of “rebellion” and “sedition”. But how has history placed Puigdemont ahead of this adverse events?

 

History background

Where did this sense and desire for independence began for Catalonia?
It is difficult to determine. Many historians agree that the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714) was key for Catalan secessionists. When the Spanish King died in 1700 without a further heir, a war among the strongest European powers began to succeed the Spanish throne. The Spanish population became thus divided between advocates of the Austrian Habsburgs and advocates of the French Bourbons, leaving Catalonia as a supporter of the Habsburg family, since they ensured a greater decentralisation and therefore greater autonomy for each region.

The war ended with the victory of the Bourbon Family, which meant the beginning of an absolutist centralised system in Spain and thus, the prohibition of the Catalan constitution and language. With the industrialisation of the 19th century in Europe, Catalonia experienced a significant economical and industrial growth, which enhanced the Catalan culture, but it was not until 1932 that Catalonia retrieved its institutions and created its “Estatut d’Autonomia” (statute of autonomy). However, this Estatut along with the Catalan language was forbidden during the 40 years of Franco’s dictatorship in Spain, until its end in 1975.


With the adoption of a democratic system in the country, the desire of independence and self-determination has been growing throughout the years, flourishing especially with the economic crisis of 2008, the high debts of Catalonia and the perceptual fallacy from many Catalans that Catalonia contributes more to  Spain than it benefits from it. The “procés” (process) is a set of events that have been developed from 2012 until present day in this Catalonia, aiming to achieve the region’s right to self-determination and independence from Spain.

 

The Catalan Independence Desire

Catalonia’s independence desire has expanded more remarkably in the last 10 years. In fact, in 2006, only around 15% of the population in Catalonia wanted independence. Why has this changed? Some experts point out that this desire was first fuelled with the crisis and the significant economic cutbacks from the Spanish Central Government (due to Catalonia’s high debts). But there have also been a few important political events that contributed.

In 2010, a decision was made by the Spanish Constitutional Court to withdraw the new freedoms that Catalans had regained in 2006. This event enhanced the local resentment and separatism among Catalan population and in July 2010, 425.000 people went on strike in the streets of Barcelona. 

Later in 2014, an informal vote on independence was called, with 80% of votes in favour of the independence and a turnout of 40%. While polls showed that a big part of Catalonia’s population, in favour or against independence, wanted a legal and binding referendum, the Central Spanish government answer was a negative one. The main argument? Spanish Constitution does not allow the division of the country, and therefore aiming to do so is illegal.

October 1st: Referendum

Despite the Spanish Central Government’s refusal to call for a referendum, the non-binding voting still took place, organised by the Catalan govern. In response, the National Police was in charge of preventing such referendum from happening, and chaos took over the streets of Catalonia. This time, a 43% turnout was determined by the organisers of the referendum, but the vote in favor of independence reached 90%. Note that the voting was not controlled, and some pro-independentists voted more than once at different ballots.

Later on October 27th, during a plenary session, the govern held a vote regarding the Catalan Declaration of Independence and obtained the majority of votes. Puigdemont declared the independence, but was dismissed a few hours later by the then Spanish president, Mariano Rajoy. By following the acts stated as illegal under the Spanish Constitution, the Central Government took over Catalonia and dismissed the Catalonian Parliament. New elections were held in December 21st.

The events ended with the pro-independent politicians dismissed, in jail or exiled. According to some experts, this has been the strongest political crisis that Spain has faced since democracy was restored in 1975. At present, Puigdemont, who is now living in Belgium, is currently still travelling around Europe. On Wednesday October 3rd, he will attend an interview held by Room for Discussion at Roeterseiland Campus (Universiteit van Amsterdam). Don’t forget to read our next article after the interview for a further analysis on the case! Released on Saturday 6th October.