Isabel Hughes | Mustang News

As tensions rise in Barcelona, Spain, Catalonia flags soar high and Cal Poly students navigate their way through studying abroad amidst a historical secession movement.

Catalonia is a highly industrialized, autonomous region in Spain that is seeking independence. It is located in the north eastern region of Spain and accounts for approximately 20 percent of Spain’s gross domestic product, according to the government of Catalonia fact book

The Catalonian people make up 16.1 percent of Spain’s population and possess a fervent pride for their distinct culture and their regional language of Catalan. 

“One of the first things they did in my classes was separate Catalonian culture from Spanish culture. It’s so different … you can feel a resentment towards the Spanish government,” agricultural communications junior Alexandra Lavy, who is studying abroad in Barcelona, said. 

Although Catalonia has a history of separatist efforts, recently these efforts to secede have intensified. Catalonia held a referendum Oct. 1 to vote on the matter of secession. The Spanish government declared that this referendum was illegal, and therefore illegitimate. European Union leaders have supported the central Spanish government on this stance, according to a European Commission press release.

According to El Pais, a Spanish newspaper, approximately 42 percent of eligible voters took part in the referendum and 90 percent voted in favor of independence. Although a large majority of people voted for independence, there were Catalonians who opposed independence but did not participate because they viewed the referendum as illegitimate, according to the Washington Post. Therefore, the referendum doesn’t represent everyone in Catalan likely because those who opposed the referendum didn’t vote  because of its illegitimacy to the Spanish Government. During the referendum, many polling stations were raided by Spanish police and voters were met with abrasive responses by Spanish officers, according to CNN.

“We’ve had school cancelled twice and we have been asked to stay in our homes just because of the protests and the strikes, we don’t know if they’re gonna get violent or not. People that were trying to vote were getting shot with rubber bullets. They were being pushed and shoved by the national police. You can feel a lot of tension here,” Lavy said. 

Business administration junior Karran Saini, who is studying abroad in Barcelona, gave insight regarding how the city of Barcelona is affected by the secession movement on a daily basis.

“I would say the whole city is highly impacted by protests, like every square inch of it,” Saini said. “Because even though I haven’t seen a protest on my street, every night at 10:00 to 10:20 p.m. everyone goes out on their balconies and bangs pots and pans.”

In Madrid, the capital of Spain, Spanish flags can be seen hanging off of balconies and in windows of almost every building to demonstrate support of the Spanish government. According to business administration senior Alex Reyes, who is studying abroad in Madrid and recently traveled to Barcelona, the secession movement has affected his study abroad experience regularly by becoming the relevant topic of discussion in his Government and Politics in Spain class.

“We basically get new updates on Catalonia everyday and that’s what we talk about, which has been insightful,” Reyes said.

In a recent development regarding the secession of Catalonia, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced intent to eliminate Catalan parliament and hold new elections for Catalonia’s leaders under article 155 of the Spanish constitution, according to NPR. The Catalonian parliament voted to secede from Spain Oct. 27 and declared independence. Even as many Catalonians rejoiced in this declaration of independence, the Spanish Senate approved Madrid to move forward in taking direct control of Catalonia, according to NPR.

The Spanish government has expressed that it will not tolerate any secession that takes place, and officially utilized article 155 of the Constitution to take control of Catalonia Oct. 28, which included suspending the pay of Catalonia’s government officials.

Despite the upheaval of power, Catalonian leader Carles Puigdemont vowed to continue working towards an independent country. On Oct. 29, a large rally was held in Barcelona by anti-secessionists depicting the silent majority in Barcelona, which exists despite the frequent pro-independence protests, according to NPR.

Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy plans to hold new Catalonia elections Dec. 21. While Catalonia’s convoluted desire for independence evolves, Cal Poly students studying abroad are witnessing the fastening and halting of civil revolution.

“It’s really cool to see this unfold first-hand and it looks like looking at history,” Saini said.

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