BARCELONA, SPAIN— Spain’s worst economic crisis in a generation has sparked renewed interest in independence among people in the prosperous northeastern region of Catalonia. Local elections on November 25 are expected to solidify the position of the region’s governing pro-independence party, and could lead to a referendum on the issue.
On the shores of the Mediterranean, Barcelona is a beautiful and prosperous city. Polls indicate its people are increasingly unhappy, however, about having their tax money go to support poorer parts of Spain, and a quick walk down a main street confirms the findings.
“ I am in favor of independence because I think Catalonia would have more money if I didn’t have to send so much to Spain,” said a woman named Mariana.
“Yes, I am a supporter of independence for Catalonia for many reasons. The main reason is the lack of understanding of the Catalan reality over many years," said a man named Manuel.
“Catalonia pays a lot in taxes to Spain, when really it’s money that should stay here and could be used to improve Catalonia,” said another woman name Paulina.
The feeling is evident on many of Barcelona’s balconies. The Catalan regional flag is red and yellow stripes, but add a blue triangle and a star, and it becomes an independence banner. More and more of them are appearing all across the city, sometimes right next to the regional flag.
Still, there are concerns that opposition from the rest of Spain would cause a long, bitter conflict, and Spain could block an independent Catalonia’s desire to join the European Union.
The Catalan move comes as other regions in Europe also are seeking independent status. Regional pride and culture are a big part of the independence movements.
Economics Professor Juan Carlos Conesa at Barcelona Autonomous University said practicalities, though, should play a larger role in the debate.
“My view is that it is going to be a loss-loss situation. The process implies a huge amount of uncertainty," said Conesa. "And in the middle of a big economic crisis, introducing additional uncertainty is not necessarily a good way to get out of the crisis.”
But in a lounge near his office, some of his Catalan graduate students disagree.
“In the very, very short run it can be causing some problems. Maybe a break like Catalan independence will help both the Catalans and also the Spaniards," said a graduate student named Pau.
“The political elite in Madrid, they are trying to build a centralized state and basically, they use the money from the wealthy regions like Catalonia,” said another grad student named Arnau.
“In a more plural society in Spain, we could fit, Catalans could fit there perfectly okay. But not in the way that it is right now,” said grad student Joaquin.
Professor Conesa tells them no one really knows the impact of a serious move toward Catalan independence. He believes the only thing that is certain is the potentially damaging uncertainty such a move would cause.