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What’s behind the Catalan movement for independence

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced Saturday he’ll dissolve Catalonia’s government and exercise direct control over the region of 7.5 million people. The announcement is intended to stop the independence movement in Catalonia, which voted to secede in a referendum this month. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports on the roots of Catalan separatism and the arguments for and against independence.

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  • Malcolm Brabant:

    At Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia Cathedral, the soundtrack was not of chiming bells, but of banging pots and pans on neighboring balconies. This is the traditional protest of Catalonia’s independence supporters. They were furious with the Spanish cabinet deciding to suspend the region’s autonomy and impose direct rule from Madrid.

  • Protester:

    I am very happy that a lot of people are going out in the street. We will not stop.

  • Protester:

    Do not forget that, for example, the American independence wasn’t legal. All independence, by definition, is illegal.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Elalia Reguant is a member of Catalonia’s regional parliament that voted to defy Spain.

  • Eulalia Reguant:

    Independence is not a lost cause. Independence is more necessary than ever, People are our only weapon, because we know that is the only way to build a society that is fair and equitable.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The last time Europe witnessed a major country breaking up was in the early 1990s, when Yugoslavia disintegrated in a series of wars that left 20,000 dead in Croatia and more than 100,000 killed in Bosnia. Now those countries had to fight for their independence. Catalonia is different. It doesn’t have an army. And as far as anyone knows, it doesn’t have a secret paramilitary organization, like IRA.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Catalonia’s decade-long drive toward independence has relied on the power of peaceful public protests. But it’s met total resistance from Madrid and the European Union, which does not want to encourage other separatist movements in France, Italy and Belgium. This week, Spain’s detention of two leading independence activists on sedition charges fueled Catalan anger. Nuria Simon, a tour guide in Barcelona, is among protesters who claim the future of democracy is at stake.

  • Nuria Simon:

    As a Catalan, I feel very mistreated from the Spanish government. It’s nothing against the country. It’s nothing against our neighbors in Spain. It’s nothing against Spanish government They’ve crossed the red line one, two, three times again. We’re taxed much more than the rest of Spain. There is no freedom of expression nowadays.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    After the October 1st referendum, judged illegal by Spain’s highest court, Carles Puigdemont, head of Catalonia’s autonomous government, declared independence. But he immediately suspended the process for two months to try to secure negotiations with the Spanish government.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Puigdemont is being advised by political scientist Marc Sanjaume Calvet, who outlines the motivations for independence.

  • Marc Sajuame Calvet:

    An important aspect is identity, recognition of national identity. A second important element is economy. Catalonia is a relatively rich region and would like to get– to raise taxes and get its own share in its wealth.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    There are seven and a half million Catalans, who comprise a sixth of Spain’s population. The region is Spain’s most popular tourist destination, with 18 million visitors every year. Many are drawn to the avante garde buildings and surreal roof tops designed by 19th century architect Antoni Gaudi. Overall, Catalonia generates nearly a fifth of Spain’s annual income. But Barcelona claims that of every tax dollar levied by Madrid, only 63 cents is reinvested in Catalonia. In particular, the shortfall has negatively impacted the region’s infrastructure.

  • Marc Sajuame Calvet:

    The Catalonia institutions have been asking for a long time for a new arrangement, a new constitutional arrangements allowing Catalonia to be recognized as a nation, allowing Catalonia to have a new financial system, and to get more powers in international sphere. The Catalan government should show to the world that Catalonia wants to be a country and wants to be a partner to the other European countries.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Then there’s the hangover of history. During the 1930s Civil War, war, left wing Catalonia was the last part of Spain to fall to Fascist forces led by General Francisco Franco, an ally of Adolf Hitler. As Spain’s dictator, Franco wreaked vengeance by outlawing the Catalan language, removing cultural institutions, executing opponents, and imprisoning 20-thousand people. The language and civil rights were restored only after Franco’s death in 1975, but bitterness lingered.

  • Marc Sajuame Calvet:

    Current attitudes of the Spanish government remind to some Catalans to this Franco period.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Built on such a legacy, Catalonia’s independence movement is dividing friends and families. Nuria Lopez Ontiveros, an English teacher, and her husband Santiago, a publishing executive, have two children and are on opposite sides of the debate.

  • Santiago Ruiz De Velasco Aranguren:

    We are going rapidly toward disaster, and I feel very powerless to stop it.

  • Nuria Lopez Ontiveros:

    All we can do is try and show the world our will to be independent in the most peaceful possible way.

  • Santiago Ruiz De Velasco Aranguren:

    I think it’s suicide. You know, it’s economical suicide.

  • Nuria Lopez Ontiveros:

    I think it is absolutely worth it.

  • Santiago Ruiz De Velasco Aranguren:

    I could love my children to live in a world with less barriers, not more. So for me independence, Brexit, Catalonian independence, the Basque independence movement – everything that creates more reasons to be separated, conceptually, is a step backwards for me.

  • Nuria Lopez Ontiveros:

    The first thing is respect. Respect towards our language, towards our culture, towards our tradition, because they are being systematically attacked. And this is not the one thing that’s started to happen in the last few weeks; this has been happening for years.

  • Santiago Ruiz De Velasco Aranguren:

    They really talk about how things are going to be better, and when I look around, I see people here eating very well, having good jobs, having money to spend. They can have an opinions, they have the newspaper, they have the media, they have the political institutions. I see the quality of life here is really, really good.

  • Nuria Lopez Ontiveros:

    We talk about what’s ahead of us, and it’s scary, and we don’t know. There’s uncertainty, there are dangers, of course there are. But I wonder what will happen to us if we remain. Now, at this point? I am much more scared of that.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Before the referendum, opinion polls suggested a majority of Catalans, like retired geography professor Juan Antonio Melendez, favored unity with Spain.

  • Juan Antonio Melendez:

    Many Catalan people are so worried, they have already transferred their assets to banks outside of Catalonia. There is a real fear of a bank freeze. This is very important for people who have their whole life’s savings, old people who saved for their pension and don’t want to lose it.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Uncertainty over how independence might affect the economy has led to 700 companies, including Catalonia’s Caixa Bank, protectively moving their registered offices out of the region. Pro-independence organizations have urged account holders to withdraw their money from the bank to protest. Student Marc Torrano was happy to oblige.

  • Marco Torrano:

    We want to let the banks know that we don’t agree with them taking the headquarters out of our country just because we wanted to declare independence. But I am not sure if this protest is going to work. I didn’t take a big amount. Just a symbolic thing.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Despite the the hard push back on their independence dream, the secessionists refuse to believe their cause is futile and take to the streets in their tens of thousands.

  • Protester:

    The Spanish government has completely lost our respect. It doesn’t have any dignity or respect. They are worse than Franco. Because Franco already died long time ago, and we’re supposed to have moved on, but nothing has moved on. We’re even worse.

  • Protester:

    I want a Catalonia that is free, independent, with freedom of opinion.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Back in the cafe, husband and wife, remain at loggerheads.

  • Santiago Ruiz De Velasco Aranguren:

    The people who advocate for independence, they are really fearless of the consequences, and they think ‘at whatever cost.’ And I think that happens because we have lived in a very comfortable society, and we don’t realize really what ‘any cost’ means.

  • Nuria Lopez Ontiveros:

    I think at first it’s going to be rough. But I think that in the long run, it’s going to be a positive thing for all of us, if we collect our taxes, not having to share them with the rest of Spain I think we might be better off.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    This is Spain’s most serious political crisis in 40 years, and today’s developments are certain to trigger large demonstrations of the kind seen earlier this week. The cabinet decision has to be approved by the Senate, but with support in Madrid across party lines, that IS likely. This is uncharted territory for modern Spain, and the divisions between the two sides seem to be deepening by the hour.

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