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Catalonia Separatism and Conflict

Info: 13898 words (56 pages) Dissertation
Published: 6th Dec 2019

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Tagged: Politics

ABSTRACT

The region of Catalonia is widely known for its desire for independence, and in 2014, as part of an unofficial referendum, 80% of voters declared their support for independence from Spain. Although dismissed by Spanish Government as ‘useless’ due to it lacking official legal recognition, the vote has great symbolic significance, making it an important milestone in the case for Catalan Independence. There is a growing hostility between Catalonia and its host state Spain, economic grievances and national identities are the main reasons for this growing secessionist sentiment. This study evaluates the potential for violence in order to achieve independence; focussing on the current tensions and conflict, the independence referendum and the current political climate. Results from this study reflect the tensions of the region as a whole and suggests that tensions are continuing to escalate within Barcelona, with 15.3% of the population claiming violence was likely to occur. These tensions have increased due to a multitude of factors, principally the current economic situation, mass tourism within the area and the denial of an independence referendum by Madrid.

PART A – Background Research on Separatism in Catalonia

1. Introduction

On La Diada 2012, millions of demonstrators took to the streets of Barcelona: what was meant to be a celebration of Catalonia’s national holiday turned into the largest display of Catalan nationalism in recent history. Demonstrators filled the streets carrying banners with slogans such as ‘Independence now!’ and ‘Catalonia: the new European state’, as well as waving the Catalan national flag. On this day, dreams of Catalan independence became a real possibility (Connolly, 2013).

Separatism has become a serious political movement within Europe with regional secession a real, short term possibility in Europe. For generations, Europe has been incredibly divided: currently, there are approximately twenty five ‘significant separatist movements’ active within Europe (Borgen, 2010). Many of these have existed for decades and whilst some of them have violent pasts, many others have solely operated through peaceful ways (Wencker, 2014).

The demographic composition of the European nation’s themselves have also been a source of conflict. As territories of Europe’s many kingdoms became merged over the centuries through marriages and conquests, minority groups became caught in the middle, leading to internal conflicts and competing territorial claims (Pfeiffer, 2015). Few minority regions within Europe are more relevant than Scotland and Catalonia: these regions have launched high profile independence movements, capturing global attention and threatening to permanently alter European geopolitics.

This research will move through the history of Catalan nationalism, focussing on current tensions and conflict, the independence referendum and the current political climate, in order to understand the roots of separatist demands and find the drivers behind their rise in the last decade. The Research question for this thesis will be:

“Catalan’s will not resort to violence in pursuit of independence”

2. Theories of Nationalism and Separatism

Nationalism is a movement aimed at the establishment of a nation state which seeks to be a fundamental unit in the world political order (Keating, 2000). The collapse of empires and creation of new states during the 20th Century have caused tensions to arise between various groups within the newly formed region increasing the support for nationalist and separatist ideas. The very process of nation and state building has made conflict unavoidable (Alibayov, 2016).

2.1 Nationalism and Nation building

Nationalism is an ideology based on the premise that the individual’s loyalty and devotion to the nation-state surpass other individual or group interests (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2017). In the 19th century, a sense of romantic nationalism grew within Europe causing political turmoil and upheaval, as a result of enlightenment about equality, democracy and political reforms and revolutions that gave voice to people who had previously been excluded.  The American and French Revolutions played a key role in the birth of nationalism, leading many European countries to overthrow the existing power structures and develop new ones based on national identity (Cranford, 2010). People began to identify with their nation rather than their country, threating the boundaries of states throughout Europe.

Keating (2000) suggests that regions which are part of a state but whose citizens are attributed to, have an independent nationality. He focusses on how nations can take advantage of their rights via institutions such as the European Union to strengthen their cause from within, achieve political recognition, as well as gaining the same roles as the nation state. This process is called nation building (Requejo, 2001).

Two key theories can be used to understand nation building namely Gellner and Hobsbawm. Gellner (1964) suggests that through the advancement of industry, improvements were made within the education system leading to the creation of high cultural values within society. This unified high society may in turn lead to statehood. Once a state has been created, the sense of nation is reinforced through education, language and cultural venues.

Hobsbawm (1962) by contrast, describes nationalism as a top-down process whereby the elites learn, operate and write in a certain language, which passes down to the rest of the population. If the above conditions exist for a nation, secession or at least political autonomy, becomes a possible motivating factor for people in these nations.

The Spanish state has historically been conspicuously unsuccessful in building a unitary nation. The nation building process in Spain was shaped in a different way from other European countries. While most European countries completed their national integration processes more or less successfully, the ruling class in Spain failed to lead the population towards a national identity (Brennan, 1962). The organisation of the state into Autonomous Regions is simply an attempt to find a solution to historic deficits in the organisation of Spain as a nation state.

Nation-building is an important element in Catalan nationalist discourse. This refers to the political and social mobilisation engaged in, to build on a nationalist movement’s differentiating features. In order to survive, nationalist movements must continuously adapt to changing circumstances but this process does not necessarily involve state-building. All post-Franco governments in Catalonia have endeavoured to ‘nation build’ through restoration of Catalan language and creating a national identity. The Catalan Government have strived for replication of powers of Spain’s government which has been largely successful: Catalonia have their own government officials, police force, flag, and national anthem for example (Martines-Herrera, 2002; Moreno, 2001).

Regional institutions have also supported the development of Catalan national identity as many of these organisation promote Catalan identity through published materials and events for example. These actions have influenced public opinion, creating an image depicting support for nation building (McRoberts, 1996).

2.2 Separatism

Separatism can be defined as the political movement that pursues independence for its own territorial entity, and seeks to accomplish this through secession from the existing central state (Wencker, 2014). Separatism is an inherently political movement: distinct cultural groups act upon their claims for independence from the nation on whose territory they reside as a minority. Separatism generates conflict but is not necessarily violent: many separatist groups pursue goals of greater autonomy by peaceful means (Alibayov, 2016).

To understand the key forces behind many of Europe’s separatist movements, Benedict Anderson’s theory on imagined communities is crucial. Anderson (1983) describes the existence of imagined communities who share an idea of communion without personally knowing the greater part of the communities members. Even with no personal connection, members of this imagined community share common identical features such as language and cultural traditions (Werncker, 2014). Often these common community features have been created artificially over a period of time, but are perceived to be logical and self-evident by the members of a community. Communities can also be defined in relation to what it is not (Hylland, 1995).

Membership of such communities is often expressed by references to a shared history, national symbols and culture. For example the Dutch community dressing in Orange during King’s Day as expressions of membership of the ‘Dutch imagined community’. In allcases of separatism within Europe, an imagined community exists, for example Scotland, Catalonia or Flanders: each region has their own flag, language, cultural traditions, which are distinctively different from those of the national imagined community.

3. Catalonia and Separatism

The historical context of Catalan separatism is complex and largely based on the rise of Catalonia from the twelfth through the fourteenth century.

3.1 Medieval Catalonia

Following the unification of Aragon territories in 1137, under the rule of the Count of Barcelona, the Country of Catalonia emerged and held considerable political and economic sway through the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. In 1479, it was united into a single monarchy with the royal marriage of Castile and Aragon (Alexander, 2014).

During the War of Spanish Succession in the 18th century, Catalonia supported the Habsburg pretender to the Spanish throne, who favoured a federalized Spain, against the French Bourbon claimant. However, The Treaty of Utrecht (1713) confirmed Philip V as King (Kamen, 1969; Elliot, 2002), and on 11th September 1714, after a 15 month siege, Barcelona fell to the Bourbon Army, an event that continues to have major resonance amongst Catalan nationalists (Kamen, 2014). The new Bourbon King removed all Catalan institutions and banned the official use of the Catalan language. This effectively ended the Catalan state structure and began a process of cultural assimilation that continued until the 20th century.

3.2 19th Century Catalonia

Catalonian nationalism re-emerged in the nineteenth century as nationalism surged throughout Europe and various cultural movements began pressing for greater recognition, following the success of the French Revolution. Catalonia benefited greatly from industrialisation during this century, leading to the growth of an educated middle class. The economy flourished again and the intellectuals took up the task to promote and protect the Catalan culture, leading to Catalan cultural and literary renaissance (Schech, 1990). The poet Carles Aribau was one of the first to express nostalgia for the Catalan traditions and language. This period is often considered as the base for Catalanism. In the 1880s, the nostalgia was replaced by a longing for modernity and progress (Schech, 1990).

3.3. Mancomunitat de Catalunya

The first attempt at Catalan autonomy occurred in 1914, with the creation of the Mancomunitat de Catalunya. The Mancomunitat brought together four provinces of Catalonia to manage resources and invest in infrastructure, educational institutions, as well as provide basic health services (The Local, 2016). Challenging the corrupt electoral system, the campaign for self-government reached a peak towards the end of World War 1, however, the Mancomunitat was abolished by Miguel Primo de Rivera in 1925. Autonomy was granted again during the Second Spanish Republic (1931–1938).

3.4. Franco Dictatorship and the Spanish Civil War

Although all regions suffered during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), Catalonia was treated differently: thousands were executed, imprisoned or forced to flee for their safety. Barcelona spent much of the civil war under the control of anarchist groups and was subject to violence including street warfare and air raids by Franco’s air force which killed 1300 people (Coman, 2016). The Catalan President, Lluis Companys, was forced into exile in France, before being extradited by Franco. He was executed in 1940 at Montjuic Castle, overlooking Barcelona. Following the Spanish Civil War and Franco’s succession, Catalonia suffered cultural eradication, with Catalan political institutions and symbols abolished and removed from public life, including the Catalan language (Guibernau, 2004).

In November 1971, the Assembly of Catalonia was formed which advocated the reintroduction of autonomy and recognition of Catalan identity and culture, which gained widespread popularity following the death of Franco in 1975 (Moreno et al., 1998).

3.4 Democratic Spain

Following Franco’s death, Catalonia had hoped that they would now be recognised as a nation in the new constitution, however they accepted the denomination “nationality”. Catalonia’s status was further devalued following the creation of 17 Autonomous Communities (The Economist, 2012). After 25 years, the Parliament of Catalonia decided to draw up a new Catalan Statute of Autonomy, in order to re-instate rights it had lost in 1978.

In 2000, resentment grew across the whole of Spain against secessionist regions including Catalonia and the Basque region, following the election of a neo-conservative government in Madrid (Cohen, 2012). A watered down version of the Statute of Autonomy was passed in 2006, however, this was challenged by the Spanish Constitutional Court, and in 2010, made its ruling that declared large parts of the Statute unconstitutional including the idea of Catalonia as a ‘nation’ (Guibernau 2014). This resulted in large scale demonstrations, of over one million people, in Barcelona on July 10th 2010 (Muñoz and Guinjoan 2013).

3.5 Current Political Dynamic in Catalonia

On 11th September 2013, more than one million people formed a 400 km human chain across the region of Catalonia in support of independence compared to only 30,000 federalists marching in support of Spanish unity on October 12th (Guibernau et al., 2014). Support for independence has been increasing steadily, as has the perceptions of Catalan identity (Guibernau 2014).

An unofficial referendum on Catalonian Independence was carried out on 9th November 2014 by the Catalan government, with 1.8 million Catalans voting in favour of independence. However, this represented only 37% of the electorate with the central government claiming that those who were against independence abstained from voting rendering the result invalid. Further, this referendum was not authorised by the Spanish government who felt it was unconstitutional (Burgen, 2014). Subsequently the Catalan President, Artur Mas, was arrested and convicted for defying the constitutional court and barred from office for two years (Jones, 2017). Secessionist parties, having won a clear majority of seats in Catalonia’s parliament have approved a further referendum with the hope of achieving independence in mid-2017.

4. Summary of Catalan Separatism

Secessionism is on the rise across Europe with increasing claims for independence from constituent countries with a strong regional or national identity such as Scotland, Catalonia and Flanders. These claims have intensified within the context of global and European economic crisis. This has led political and social actors within these regions to strengthen their criticism of existing models of funding and distribution of power in their nation-state, demanding greater changes be implemented to allow them to control their own regional development (Colomb et al., 2014). A review of both the media and political portrayal of Scotland, Catalonia and Flanders, reveal that grievances related to territory, distribution of resources and investment in infrastructure have gained greater interest, at the expense of more identity and culture based arguments (Béland and Lecours, 2008; Bakke, 2015).

In all cases of separatism within the EU and Spain there are clear elements of Anderson (1983) ‘imagined community’ and Brigevich (2012) ‘regional imagined community’. Within Catalonia, the region has their own flag, language and cultural traditions that are distinctively different from the Spanish community.  The use of Catalan language alongside support for Catalonian independence can be interpreted as an example of national building policy within Catalonia. This language is at the core of Catalan imagined community giving Catalonians an everyday language that is notably different from the rest of Spain.

Like their Flemish and Scottish counterparts, Catalonia does not embrace violence in order to achieve secession, contrary to the traditional interpretation of nationalism, which suggests that the end goal is self-determination or state formation. Instead, Catalan nationalism belongs to the new wave of nationalism which rejects secession but instead focusses on building a nation within a state. Catalonia seeks to assert its sense of identity, distinctiveness and nationhood by operating within the Spanish state. This type of nationalism can be thought of as bourgeois nationalism: the product of a wealthy region or territory attempting to create distinctive consciousness (Harvie, 1994).

In terms of secession, international political support is required for success: only when a seceding region acquires international recognition can it truly become a new, sovereign state. The want for secession in Catalonia is justified through democratic means with emotional, political, and economic arguments (Coppieters and Huysseune, 2002), however, the decision to recognise Catalonia as a country is based upon political considerations and separatist movements therefore require justification, which can either consist of a just cause or a free choice.

Within Catalonia, tensions are beginning to rise and with it the desire for independence.

Part B – Fieldwork and Results of Study: Barcelona 2017

1. Study Area

The following section builds on the literature based research which has been carried out in the previous sections, and includes results obtained through a five day field study conducted in February/March 2017. This study was carried out at various locations throughout the city of Barcelona including L’Eixample, La Ribera, El Born, Barceloneta, Port Olimpic and El Raval, illustrated at Figure 1 below.  The research was collected by small groups initially which was later combined to give a representative overview of feelings within the region. The overall aim of this research is to evaluate the likelihood of Catalan’s to resort to violence in order to achieve independence.

Figure 1. An overview of neighbourhoods within Barcelona, Spain

2. Methodology

The research practices employed in this study are a combination of methods: the use of a mixed approach for gathering data provides a basis for enhancing research quality, giving a more complete view and checking the validity of the findings. This mixture of methods compensates the weaknesses of one, with the strengths of another. Quantitative research collects numeric data whilst qualitative methods obtains non-numeric data or data that is gained from inference. Ideally a combined approach can should be adopted as suggested by Tashakori and Teddlie (2003), as the researcher can obtain different perspectives while attempting to answer research questions and also make more reliable interpretations (Saunders et al., 2009).

The mixed approach adopted in this study is based on analysis of contemporary sources such as literature, internet websites and news articles, content analysis of two heritage sites and a conflict observational survey within Barcelona. This was accompanied by semi-structured qualitative interviews and quantitative questionnaires.

2.1 Conflict Observational Survey of Cultural Landscape

Observational research is a type of correlational research in which the researcher observes symbols, graffiti and monuments for example, to build up an image of conflict and triggers within the landscape. An observational survey of the cultural landscape was carried out with any conflict emblems such as flags, graffiti, flags or monuments noted. Linear transects were walked from the L’Eximple area of Barcelona from El Clot to the Sagrada Familia, illustrated in Figure 2 below.

Figure 2. Linear Transect for Observational Study from El Clot train station to La Sagrada Familia

2.2 Qualitative Survey on Catalan Independence

As part of the research undertaken for this report, a short qualitative interview was undertaken with individuals within the Gracia and L’Eixample neighbourhood (Figure 3), to gauge the areas opinion on independence. Semi-structured interviews were conducted and were intended to assess the likelihood of Catalans to resort to violence in order to achieve independence. Several research questions were posed for the study and predetermined before the survey was carried out (Table 1).  Care was taken to ensure leading questions were not used within the study and researcher’s preconceived ideas did not influence questions.

Table 1. Research Questions posed to assess possibility of violence in order to achieve independence within Catalonia

As this is an emotive topic, questions were designed to obtain information without asking questions directly:

  • Questions 1 and 2 were designed to indicate nationality of those being interviewed.
  • Questions 3 and 4 were designed to determine whether the interviewee was pro or anti-independence.
  • The final question was designed to get a definitive answer to the hypothesis of this study.

The choice of a semi-structured approach meant that it was possible to focus the line of enquiry with specific questions, while allowing interviewees scope to develop their own line of response in a narrative form if desired (Zhang and Wildemuth, 2014). The flexibility of this approach allows for elaboration of information that is important to participants, but may not necessarily have been highlighted as important to the original study.

However, it is important to recognise there are several issues with this method. As questions were being asked in English it was important to interview those who were able to understand the questions being asked and deliver understandable answers. This can also be limiting as those who do not speak good English are excluded. Interviewees may say what they think the interviewer wants to hear, rather than their own personal opinion.

Interviewees were selected at random and were first asked to confirm whether they were able to speak English and would be able to communicate their views and opinions effectively to us, as well as confirming that they were comfortable to answer personal and possibly emotive questions. In total, 172 interviews were conducted. The interviews lasted between 10-15 minutes and provided valuable ‘insider’ insights and perceptions.

Figure 3. Linear transect of route taken to complete semi-structured interviews in February 2017

2.3 Quantitative Survey on Social Vulnerability

Questionnaires were used as a form of data collection, in which all respondents are asked the same set of questions (de Vaus, 2002). Questionnaires allow large amounts of information to be collected from a large number of people in a short period of time. The results can be quantified and analysed quickly and scientifically.

As with qualitative interviews, quantitative questionnaires also have inherent weaknesses. Questionnaires often lack detail as the responses are fixed and responses may be affected due to misinterpretation of the questions. Again, as questions were asked in English it was important to know that those answering the questions understood what was being asked. This can be limiting as those who do not speak good or any English are excluded. Dishonesty in results can also occur as people answer the questions quickly without thinking. Information and data being collected also has its limitations as results are collected without explanation.

Owing to time constraints, small groups of students were allocated to various areas of the city in order to obtain more representative samples for the whole area. The research focussed on the Poble Nou, Port Olimpic and Barceloneta neighbourhoods of Barcelona (Figure 4).

A survey matrix (Appendix 1), was developed with pre-determined questions to gauge social vulnerability within Barcelona. This survey was divided into five sections with respondents asked to answer closed questions with a rating scale to measure the strength of attitudes towards question. Surveys were distributed to randomly selected members of the public within these areas. In total, 139 surveys were completed.

Figure 4. Linear transect surveyed as part of small group. Quantitative Surveys were carried out within the Poble Nou, Port Olimpic and Barceloneta neighbourhoods

3. Formation of Dominant Cultural Narrative of Catalan Separatism

Museums and archaeological sites can function as tools for constructing and creating visual representations of regional or national identities and produce narratives of a country’s national story (McLean, 1998; Mason, 2007).  

The rise of nationalism in Europe and establishment of nation states during the 19th century coincided with the transformation of museums into public educational institutions. A number of Catalan museums used selective interpretations of history to construct a distinct cultural identity and shape the nations collective memory: this became the basis for the right to sovereignty (Okita 1997; Bradburne 2000; Graham and Ashworth 1994). These museums were created to inform central narratives used to define a group of people, driven by memory, to inform political or social agendas.

El Born

Heritage sites are key vehicles for the visualisation of grievances within nationalist societies (Breen et al., 2016). The El Born Cultural Centre (Figure 5), a former fruit and vegetable market, was created to encourage and promote remembrance of local and national events. A government initiative, opened on La Diada 2013, condemns the past and celebrates the modern culture, mirroring current Catalan culture with that pre 1714, claiming that ‘nothing was ever the same’ after the fall of Barcelona (Breen et al., 2016).

The central focus of the centre is the exposed archaeology of Barcelona in 1700s.

An integral part of El Born’s role is to tap into grievances which exist within Catalan nationalism, with the aim of constructing a collective image of Catalan culture and national identity (Torra et al., 2013). Signage inside the centre states that it ‘aspires to become a meeting point of Catalan culture’ and encourages ‘a renewed reading of the past’ to ‘recovery of the memory of Catalan people’. Panels within the centre are politicised in nature for example the Siege ‘opened the door to repression’ and the Catalan ‘worldview suffered radical mutation’. It has experienced a lot of criticism for its anti-Spanish rhetoric.

El Born – known as Catalan ‘ground zero’ or Catalonia’s ‘9/11’ – paints picture of a region victimised and oppressed due to its unique cultural identity and aims to mobilise a generation of voters who have the opportunity change Catalonia’s political future. The centre as a whole depicts the city prior to the siege in 1714 as a utopian paradise full of ‘ornamental gardens, painting, music and dance’. However, Barcelona like all 18th century cities, it would have been marked by poverty, class division and disease (Permanyer, 2011).

Figure 5. Interior of El Born Cultural Centre in El Raval neighbourhood, with archaeology of 1714 streetscape visible (Barcelona.com, 2013)

Museum of Catalan History

Museums become symbols of the collective social memory constituting the ‘imagined community’ a space where the nation could present itself, to itself and to others (Anderson 1983). The Museum of Catalan History (Figure 6), strategically located in Port Vel, documents a comprehensive and interdisciplinary history of Catalonia and was developed as part of a Catalan Government initiative. It opened in 1996, following two years of preparation and in the face of strong opposition claiming it was politically biased, historically imbalanced and an unacceptable drain on funding for other cultural projects (Sutherland, 2014).

Combining emotion with politically charged national history is largely avoided within this museum, although the account of resistance to Bourbon Siege of Barcelona is an exception. Two separate panels sate that ‘Barcelona held out for thirteen months, impressing European public opinion’ and that the fall of the city indicated the ‘end of the Catalan state’. The significance of Catalonia’s loss of independence is underlined by the fact that this event closes the first half of the exhibition.

The Catalan language is presented as a key element in Catalan identity. The exhibition explicitly culminates with the election of first post Franco Catalan parliament in 1980 and subsequent decades are summed up as ‘an uninterrupted process of autonomous development and institutional consolidation’. References to Spain and the Spanish ‘other’ are generally noticeable by their absence.

Figure 6. Entrance to Museum of Catalan History located in Port Vel, Barcelona (Source: Barcelona Connect, 2015)

4. Description of Cultural Landscape

In cultural geography, landscape imagery has long been viewed as an integral component of national identity. Barcelona’s landscape has been historically shaped by its location, political battles and civil society (Casellas, 2009).

4.1 Architecture

During a period of national identity revival in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Barcelona engaged in a process of city beautification linking the construction of Modernist buildings with the recovery and the promotion of historic sites. This urban transformation aimed to promote tourism, whilst also fostering civic pride and creating a Catalan national identity (Casellas, 2009). Balibrea (2001) however has been critical of this, stating that the city’s heritage has been sanitised to satisfy a global tourism market.

The region embraces ‘Modernisme’ architectural style as well as literature, music, arts and crafts, and visual arts culture, with the Sagrada Familia Church (Figure 7) by Gaudi the most symbolic of this time. Barcelona’s modernist architects looked to the past for inspiration and often borrowed ideas from Arabic and oriental architecture to symbolise biblical and traditional Catalan themes. This strategic use of architecture was used to connote the city’s Catalan identity, whilst showing that it possesses the resources required to encourage tourism (Harvey 1989). As Catalonia grew in wealth and power during the 19th century, the region began to re-establish its national identity: firstly by restoring its language but also by the injection of modern ideas designed to rejuvenate the Catalan society and culture (Barcelona-Life.com, 2015)

The urban history of Barcelona illustrates how the landscape of a fashionable city is the result of urban planning in combination with many social, economic and political events (Casella, 2009).

Figure 7. La Sagrada Familia located in the L’Eixample district and was designed by Catalan Architect Antoni Gaudi. Construction commenced in 1882 and is hoped to be finally completed by 2026, the centennial of Gaudi’ death (Source: Mairs, 2015).

4.2 Monuments

The early monumentalisation of Barcelona in the opening decades of the twentieth century can be seen as a process designed to reposition Barcelona as the national capital (Monclus, 2000). This process was primarily for geo-political purposes but also had important tourism implications. Verschaffel (1999) suggested the use of monuments has changed, as representational space has moved from the physical environment to the space of the media and public opinion. Barcelona also went through a process of de-monumentalisation, with the removal of monuments to Franco following the dictator’s death.

Monuments are used as commemorative tools designed to encourage a collective national memory. Commemorative monuments to national heroes do appear within Barcelona but are small in number, which many have suggested is the government attempting to conceal Barcelona’s past (Balibrea, 2001). A description of key political monuments is provided below and illustrated at Figure 8.

Rafael Casanova Monument – Ronda de Sant Pere (Figure 8A)

During the War of Spanish Succession, Rafael Casanova was the Councillor in Chief of Barcelona and is regarded as a Catalan National Hero, wounded defending the city in 1714. This monument is used as a focal point during La Diada with floral tributes laid in front of the statue as part of the commemorations.

Catalan Volunteer Statue – Parc de Ciutadella (Figure 8B)

This statue commemorates Catalan volunteers killed on battlefields under the allied flags. Although created in 1918, the reign of Primo de Rivera made it impossible to celebrate any Catalan public art so the unveiling had to be postponed for 13 years. The statue itself was subject to various violations during the Franco regime. This monument represents a commitment to Catalonia and the freedom of Barcelona: it portrays a clear commitment to Europe in Catalonia and represents values of democracy, peace and freedom.

Monument al General Prim – Parc de Ciutadella (Figure 8C)

The Statue of General Prim is located in La Parc de Ciutadella, named after the hated Bourbon citadel that occupied the site from 1716 until 1869. General Prim gave orders for the citadel to be demolished and provided a urban greenspace instead which is used extensively by the general public.

Monument to Francesc Macia – Placa de Catalunya (Figure 8D)

This monument is of the first president of Catalonia who fought for Catalan independence and formed political party Estat Catala. The monument consists of a bronze bust of Marcia in front of an inverted concrete staircase. This unfinished staircase symbolises the ongoing history of Catalonia which is being constructed day by day.

Fossar de les Moreres – Santa Maria del Mar (Figure 8E)

This is a place of great symbolic significance: it is thought that this area is the burial site of the fallen during the 1714 Siege of Barcelona. For Catalans, Fossar is more than a memory – it is a homage. In 2001, a cauldron representing an eternal flame was erected at the monument as a symbol of permanent tribute. This monument is used as a central point for remembrance during La Diada celebrations.

Figure 8. Location of key political monuments in Barcelona: [A] Rafael Casanova Monument (Elmunicipio, 2013); [B] Catalan Volunteer Statue (Barcelona Modernista, 2014); [C] Monument al General Prim (Author, 2017); [D] Monument to Francesc Macia (Author, 2017); [E] Fossar de les Moreres (Author, 2017)

A shift towards a more monumental urban landscape occurred in Barcelona at the end of the 19th century, with the Universal Exhibition of 1888 contributing greatly to this notion.

The Christopher Columbus statue at the foot of Las Ramblas (Figure 9a), the Arc de Trimof (Figure 9b) and the exhibition buildings within the Parc de la Ciutadella are examples of monumental structures introduced at this time. All of these monuments still play a significant role in the city’s tourist appeal. Following the 1888 Exhibition, monumentalisation in Barcelona continued with the aim of creating a capital city status (Smith, 2007).

Figure 9. Monuments created for the Universal Exhibition of 1888 [a] Christopher Columbus Statue (Source: Medioimages, 2014) and [b] Arc de Triomf (Source: Konig, 2013)

4.4 Cultural Symbology

Catalan culture has its own unique identity: the innovative flair, creativity and capacity to absorb different influences have created a culture that is both national and cosmopolitan (Generalitat de Catalunya, 2014).

The most prominent form of national and cultural identity are flags. Flags in Catalonia, as in Northern Ireland, are one of the most potent expression of political loyalties and identities, and thus the extent of their presence on the political scene and the manner in which they are used is of crucial importance in mobilising the local population.

The Catalan flag shows how a cultural symbol has gradually become part of political patterns (Anderson, 1991). The Senyera, the symbol of Catalan national identity, acts as a way of stating opposition to Spain and can, for the Catalan people, be a focus for deep sentimentality today (Billig, 1995).

In the city of Barcelona, in terms of single flags displayed, the dominant symbol observed in this study was the Catalan flag. Many balconies displayed both the Catalan and the EU flag, while a small number incorporated the Spanish flag as well. The Spanish constitution makes it mandatory to fly the Spanish flag at government locations. Otherwise it is not usually seen and is considered a symbol of oppression and past humiliations.

The nature of displays varied with the character of the district: where Spanish was the predominant language, Barcelona and Spanish flags tended to predominate, whereas areas closer to the city centre were overwhelmingly Catalan, with a large proportion of these being independista. Many of these flags were also by slogans and banners, the most common of which were ‘Freedom for Catalonia’ and ‘Independence’.

A further way of observing cultural artefacts transmitted into political patterns is in the style of Jordi Pujol who believed language and culture to be the main traits of Catalan identity (Medrano, 1995). Catalan politicians frequently use slogans involving ‘Catalan identity’ to create a collect sense of Catalanness (Häkli, 2001). The need to create a collective national identity is deeply rooted within the cultural and political life of Catalonia.

5. Social Vulnerability

A social vulnerability questionnaire was completed to determine which factors were of greatest concern to the Catalan population and to determine possible triggers for conflict as a result.

The small group surveyed Poble Nou, Port Olimpic and Barceloneta neighbourhoods with results illustrated in a Social Vulnerability pentagon at Figure 10.  For these regions, governance and economics were of most concern to the residents at 1.5 and 1.8 respectively. Environment and social factors were of least concern to these residents at 2.5 and 2.8 respectively.

Overall results from surveys, illustrated at Figure 11, highlighted future threats and governance as being the most dominant at 2.0 and 2.3 respectively. This is likely to be a result of anti-government feeling, distrust, corruption and fraud, and their desire for independence. An examination of the environmental results identifies the distribution of water and environmental injustice as a risk factor. Surprisingly, in this study, the economy ranked low at 3.7, this may be due in part to the very recent slight economic upturn experienced throughout Spain. As with economy, social also ranked as a low priority at 3.2, with this factor decreasing in importance from studies carried out during the previous year. At the height of the recession social ranked highly demonstrating strong community spirit. As the economy recovers the community spirit weakens and this contributes to low social cohesion within Barcelona.

This study highlighted 4 key potential triggers for violence and conflict, which need to be addressed in order to lessen social tensions:

  1. Social disparities
  2. Gentrification of City Centre and Tourism
  3. Distrust for Government
  4. Large Immigrant Population
Figure 10. Social Vulnerability Pentagon showing results of small group findings
Figure 11. Social Vulnerability Pentagon showing results of overall findings

7. Catalan Independence and Conflict

Qualitative surveys were carried out within the Gracia and L’Eixample neighbourhood, results of which are illustrated at Figure 12.

From the small group interviews, all respondents were from Barcelona with the exception of two people: one was a taxi driver originally from Madrid and another was a tourist from Girona. 83.3% of respondent’s first language was Catalan; additional languages spoken included English and Spanish. A female university student stated that “My first language is Catalan. I know Spanish but I will never speak it – Catalan is my mother tongue”. Only 2 respondents did not speak Catalan.

Figure 12. Bar graph showing respondents languages preferences. The majority of respondents have a knowledge of both Catalan, Spanish and English.

The majority of respondents (75%) voted in the referendum poll with the main reasons behind voting being to protect their culture, language and economy, and to make a change – many people feel that independence will be better for Catalonia. Of those who did not vote, one was prevented from doing so by her religion, whilst two respondents feared they would lose their job if they participated in the referendum.

A common statement from respondents was that “Spain is scared of the outcome” and that “It is hard for Spain to accept Catalonia’s desire for independence – they have a united idea for Spain”. Other respondents felt that “Spain was putting the law above democracy – denying Catalonia a referendum on independence is anti-constitutional”

Overall findings from this study concluded that 50.58% of those sampled supported independence which is in line with the current official polls. The most surprising result from this survey however, was that 15.12% of those surveyed thought that Catalans would resort to violence in order to achieve independence, an increase of 11.62%, from surveys completed in 2016. A common statement between the respondents was that they “would fight for their rights!” if Spain kept denying the Catalan’s a vote on independence. Out of the 26 respondents who thought there would be violence, 11 felt that this would be initiated from the Spanish side, with one respondent stating “Spain have threatened violence before, they will do it again!”

Although many of those who were interviewed wanted an independent Catalonia, many were doubtful that this would never happen, at least not within their lifetime.

Grievance Model

Behind the romantic notions of separatism that have engulfed Catalonia lie a set of concrete, legitimate grievances. It is important to recognise the various social and political factors associated with the recent increase in desire for Catalan Independence such as language, culture and its history as a sovereign state. The Catalan experience (Figure 13) presents six core grievances which the Catalan community feel only independence can resolve. The following sections looks in depth at each of the highlighted grievances.

Figure 13. Grievance Model illustrating grievances felt by Catalonia against the Spanish
  • Politics

A diluted version of the Statute of Autonomy was passed in 2006. However, this was challenged by the Spanish Constitutional Court; and in 2010, declared large parts of the Statute as unconstitutional, including the idea of Catalonia as a ‘nation’ and increases in self-government. Catalonia requested to hold a referendum on Catalan independence which was subsequently rejected by the Spanish Parliament who called the vote unconstitutional (Pericay, 2010). The referendum was held anyway, with Catalan politicians being arrested and charged as a result of their disobedience. A further referendum is planned for mid-2017, but again the Spanish Government has claimed that this is illegal.

  • Economy

The main grievance in Catalonia is the state of the economy. The economic crisis in Spain is undoubtedly a source of popular discontent, which was the worst since 1950, leading to high unemployment rates. Catalonia makes up 16% of Spain’s total population, and generates 20% of its total GDP (Rosenfeld, 2015). Dissatisfaction has intensified by the controversy over the fiscal imbalance of 9.6%, between tax revenues transferred out of Catalonia to Madrid and the resources transferred back to Catalonia from Madrid: infrastructure and schools have been under funded as a result. The Catalan Government want the ability to collect their own taxes and control how they are spent.

  • History and Culture

Attempts to suppress Catalan culture and language has deep historical roots, intensified during the Franco years, with Catalan language being banned from public spaces and the school systems. Catalan institutions were also suppressed. Franco also prohibited the use of Catalan names, with Castilian equivalent having to be used during his regime. Popular symbols of Catalan culture such as statues and flags were removed from public view, as was the image of sardanes, a traditional Catalan dance (Boada, 2015).

Castells ‘human pyramids’ are an 18th century UNESCO recognised tradition specific to Catalonia, with popularity increasing over the past 10 years as Catalan nationalism has grown. During the Franco dictatorship, castells were one of the only ways Catalans could express their regional identity and culture (NPR, 2014).

  • Sport

Bull fighting has taken place in Catalonia since the early 14th century. By the 20th century, it had become one of the major entertainment attractions in Catalonia. A ban on this traditional past time was approved in Catalonia in 2010, making it the second Spanish community to ban bullfighting. The last bullfight in Catalonia took place on 25th September 2011 at La Monumental in La Plaza de Torro Monumental. There has been controversy surrounding the ban with many opponents claiming it was motivated, not for animal welfare reason, but rather the desire of Catalan nationalists to eradicate something seen as culturally Spanish (Burgen, 2016).

A further source of conflict is that Catalonia does not have a national team, a request that has been declined by Madrid. Instead, Barcelona Football Club is seen as a platform for the expression of Catalan national identity. During the Franco years, it was portrayed as a representative of the Catalan nation and exemplified resistance against the dictatorship: the football clubs victories were celebrated as Catalan victories (Chopra, 2013).

  • Tourism

Mass tourism has created major issues within Barcelona, with an estimated 9 million people visiting in 2016, compared to only 1.6 million residents within the city itself. A recent poll concluded that 5.3% of respondents said tourism is the biggest problem facing the city, ranking higher than poverty (Kitching, 2015). Barcelona is losing its distinctive character as the city becomes more modernised to suit tourism needs: traditional family run shops, bars and restaurants have seen wide scale closure across the city.

Another issue associated with mass tourism is accommodation. Ciutat Vella Region has lost almost 13,000 residents in 8 years due to increasing rents and excessive noise in the area. A similar scenario is happening in the Barcelonetta region: this area has seen large scale nightly demonstrations against party tourists (Burgen, 2015).

  • Media

There is a lack of supportive coverage in the Spanish newspapers. For example La Razon, an anti-independence Spanish paper downplayed the massive 2014 pro-independence demonstration. The Catalan community are lambasted on a daily basis in some media outlets with language such as ‘Catalonia is a cancerous growth on Spain’. Following the intentional crash of a Germanwings flight in 2015, one Spanish commentator stated publicly that it was ‘too bad the flight wasn’t filled with Catalans’. Social media coverage of the crash saw racist trolls celebrating the tragic deaths with users writing: ‘Hang on, let’s not make a drama out of it, there were Catalans on the plane, not people’, whilst another posted: ‘A plane full of Catalans and Germans that crashes in France. #winwinwin’ (The Local, 2015).

  • Security

Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution allows the government in Madrid to effectively end its system of self-government, with this article now emerging as a central issue in Catalonia’s independence movement. In the past the Spanish Colonel and Association of Spanish Soldiers have threatened to send troops into Catalonia if the region decides to unilaterally become independent (Buck, 2017).

8. Summary and Recommendations

Catalonia is one of Spain’s richest and most industrialised regions, with a strong desire for autonomy. Proud of its own identity and language, many Catalans view themselves as separate from Spain, a feeling sustained by memories of the Franco Regime.

Anderson (1983) uses the concept of ‘imagined communities’ as the basis for construction of national identity. From the research carried out as part of this study it is clear that there are elements of this ‘imagined community’ within Catalonia. The region has its own flag, language and cultural traditions which are distinctively different from the Spanish community. The Catalans have a rich history in which they can look back upon and were de facto an independent country until 1714.  

The use of Catalan language alongside support for independence can be interpreted as an example of nation building policy within Catalonia. This language is at the core of Catalan imagined community giving Catalonians an everyday language that is notably different from the rest of Spain. This portrays Catalonia as a distinctive region within Spain that can be considered an exclusive national minority (Brigevich, 2012; Figueras and Masella, 2013). Language and identity are the cornerstones of the imagined community at the core of Catalonian separatism.

Until recently, full independence was not wanted within Catalonia, however the economic crisis in Spain has seen a surge in support for secession. The results of this study have shown that Catalonia wants independence, and would not object to seeking violence as a way to obtain this. However, this is a minority feeling (15.6%) and is thought that if a legally binding referendum were to be held that it would be those who consider themselves Spanish, who would actually participate in violence.

The hypothesis stated at the start of this research was ‘Catalans will not resort to violence in order to achieve independence’. Typically Catalan’s do not promote the use of violence in order to achieve their goal (Lluch, 2010). The Catalan approach to autonomy is a more rational and will only resort to violence as a last resort. The potential for violence from Catalan’s is increasing as evidenced by this study: in just one year, surveys shows that the likelihood resorting to violence has increased from 3% in 2016 to 15.6% in 2017. By refusing independence referendums, the Spanish Government could promote dispondancy amongst Catalan fundamentalists who may turn to violence the way the ETA did in the 1950s and 1960s.

The independence movement is deeply rooted within Catalonia. Like Scotland, Catalonia’s parliament has a majority in favour of holding an independence referendum. However, unlike Scotland who were granted an independence referendum by Westminster Parliament, the Spanish Parliament in Madrid have refused to even debate Catalonia’s request (Financial Times, 2014).

With an upcoming referendum planned for September 2017, it is clear that the Catalan’s vote will be ‘Yes’ to independence, however, it is doubtful that this will be recognised by the Spanish Government, and it is not thought that an Independent Catalonia will be witnessed within the next decade.

8.1 Recommendations to lessen social tension in Catalonia

Based on the findings of this study, the following recommendations are made, to central Spanish Government, which may lessen tensions within the region:

  • Recognition of Catalan as the official language of Catalonia:

One of the key grievances felt amongst the Catalan people is the suppression of their language during the dictatorship years. Catalan is still not recognised as an official language by Spain or the EU, even though it is spoken by over 10 million people on a daily basis, more than some of the current official languages within the EU (Debating Europe, 2012). To alleviate some of the distress caused by the repression of this language, it is recommended that Catalan be recognised as an official language, rather than a minority, given its presence in Public Affairs and its mandatory teaching in the education system.

  • Increased autonomy for decentralised government:

The Catalan Government should be given more control over tax collection and investment in infrastructure, education and health. This will reduce the fiscal deficit, a key source of tension for Catalans, and it is hoped will reduce the tension around this issue also.

  • Bilingual education offered with the portrayal of a shared heritage

Education should be provided in both Spanish and Catalan. Social tensions can be reduced through helping members of the community gain multicultural and linguistic awareness. This can be achieve through bilingual education within schools which introduces students to each other’s language and culture. As students learn alongside others from various backgrounds, they will be exposed to cultural differences at a younger age. Bilingual education can create a more unified nation (Ball, 2011).

  • Referendum on Catalan Independence

Catalonia, like Scotland, should be allowed to hold a referendum on independence. If it was legally binding, and the entire voting population, including those who abstained in the previous non-binding referendum, take part it will give a clear image of the current feeling within the country.

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Politics refers to the way in which decisions are made on behalf of groups of people. A politician will use their position to suggest and support the creation of new policies and laws, before a group of politicians will come together to debate the creation of such policies and laws.

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