About Catalonia

Catalonia is an autonomous region on the northeastern corner of Spain, self-designated as a nationality by its Statute of Autonomy. It has a culture which has grown around the watersheds in the Northeastern most portion of Spain and France’s Pyrénées-Orientales along it’s southern border, though it is now divided by a border of the two countries.

Catalonia consists of four  provinces: Barcelona, Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona. The capital and largest city is Barcelona, the second-most populated municipality in Spain and the core of the sixth most populous urban area in the European Union. It is bordered by France (Occitanie) and Andorra to the north, the Mediterranean Sea to the east, and the Spanish autonomous communities of Aragon to the west and Valencia to the south.

Catalonia first became independent in the 10th century. The Principality of Catalonia developed its own institutional system, such as courts (parliament), and constitutions, becoming the base for the Crown of Aragon’s naval power, trade and expansionism in the Mediterranean. The northern part of the watersheds were lost under the terms of the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659, in which the Spanish Crown ceded the northern parts of Catalonia, mostly the County of Roussillon, to France. Following Catalan defeat in 1714, Catalonia was finally brought under unified administrative rule by Spain on September 11 of that year, which suppressed Catalan institutions and rights like in the other realms of the Crown of Aragon. This led to the eclipse of Catalan as a language of government and literature, replaced by Spanish.

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Fast Facts

  • Largest City: Barcelona
  • Languages Most Used: Catalan, Spanish, and the Aranese dialect of Occitan.
  • Demonym: Catalan or Catalonian
  • Total Area: 32,108 km2 (12,397 sq mi)
  • Population: 7,522,596
  • GDP (2017): Per capita $46,024 USD / Total $343 billion USD

The Catalan Movement

The Catalan independence movement began in 1922, when Francesc Macià founded the political party Estat Català (Catalan State). In 1931, Estat Català and other parties formed Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Republican Left of Catalonia; ERC). Macià proclaimed a Catalan Republic in 1931, subsequently accepting autonomy within the Spanish state after negotiations with the leaders of the Second Spanish Republic. During the Spanish Civil War, General Francisco Franco abolished Catalan autonomy in 1938. Following Franco’s death in 1975, Catalan political parties concentrated on autonomy rather than independence.

The modern independence movement began in 2010 when the Constitutional Court of Spain ruled that some of the articles of the 2006 Statute of Autonomy—which had been agreed with the Spanish government and passed by a referendum in Catalonia—were unconstitutional, and others were to be interpreted restrictively. Popular protest against the decision quickly turned into demands for independence. Starting with the town of Arenys de Munt, over 550 municipalities in Catalonia held symbolic referendums on independence between 2009 and 2011. All of the towns returned a high “yes” vote, with a turnout of around 30% of those eligible to vote. A 2010 protest demonstration against the court’s decision, organised by the cultural organisation Òmnium Cultural, was attended by over a million people. The popular movement fed upwards to the politicians; a second mass protest on 11 September 2012 (the National Day of Catalonia) explicitly called on the Catalan government to begin the process towards independence. Catalan president Artur Mas called a snap general election, which resulted in a pro-independence majority for the first time in the region’s history. The new parliament adopted the Catalan Sovereignty Declaration in early 2013, asserting that the Catalan people had the right to decide their own political future.

The Government of Catalonia announced a referendum on the question of statehood, to be held in November 2014. The referendum asked two questions: “Do you want Catalonia to become a state?” and if so, “Do you want this state to be independent?” The Government of Spain referred the proposed referendum to the Constitutional Court, which ruled it unconstitutional. The Government of Catalonia then changed it from a binding referendum to a non-binding “consultation”. Despite the Spanish court also banning the non-binding vote, the Catalan self-determination referendum went ahead on 9 November 2014. The result was an 81% vote for “yes-yes”, with a turnout of 42%. For holding this vote – the Spanish government has violently cracked down on pro-independence organizers, killing many and arresting the entire Catalan government, charging them with sedition and imposing high penalties.

The Catalan independence referendum of 2017, also known by the numeronym 1-O (for “1 October”) in Spanish media, was an independence referendum held on 1 October 2017 in the Spanish autonomous community of Catalonia, passed by the Parliament of Catalonia as the Law on the Referendum on Self-determination of Catalonia and called by the Generalitat de Catalunya. It was declared illegal on 7 September 2017 and suspended by the Constitutional Court of Spain after a request from the Spanish government, who declared it a breach of the Spanish Constitution. Additionally, in early September the High Court of Justice of Catalonia had issued orders to the police to try to prevent it, including the detention of various persons responsible for its preparation. Due to alleged irregularities during the voting process as well as to the use of force by the National Police and Civil Guard, international observers invited by the Generalitat declared that the referendum failed to meet the minimum international standards for elections. The referendum was approved by the Catalan parliament in a session on 6 September 2017 along with the Law of juridical transition and foundation of the Republic of Catalonia the following day 7 of September, which stated that independence would be binding with a simple majority, without requiring a minimum turnout. After being suspended, the law was finally declared void on 17 October,  being also illegal according to the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia which requires a two third majority, 90 seats, in the Catalan parliament for any change to Catalonia’s status.

The referendum question, which voters answered with “Yes” or “No”, was “Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?”. The “Yes” side won, with 2,044,038 (92.01%) voting for independence and 177,547 (7.99%) voting against, on a turnout of 43.03%. The Catalan government estimated that up to 770,000 votes were not cast due to polling stations being closed off during the police crackdown, although the “universal census” system introduced earlier in the day allowed electors to vote at any given polling station. Catalan government officials have argued that the turnout would have been higher were it not for Spanish and Catalan police suppression of the vote.

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