By Bethany Lee
This October, Spain has been facing its worst political crisis since it became a democracy forty years ago. For those of us who are unfamiliar with the Spanish government, here’s what you need to know:
The Kingdom of Spain is a parliamentary democracy composed of seventeen autonomous communities, similar to the states in the U.S. While sovereignty belongs only to the nation as a whole, each community has its own government with a different prime minister, or “president.” They all have their own language, flag, culture, and laws, but ultimately must adhere to the Spanish Constitution.
Recently Catalonia, one of the largest and most economically successful autonomous communities of Spain, tried to declare independence from Spain.
On October 1, the Generalitat de Catalunya (Government of Catalonia) under president Carles Puigdemont called a referendum where citizens of Catalonia voted “Yes” or “No” to the question, “Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?” 92% of voters said “Yes.”
However, the results of the referendum are disputed because the Spanish government had declared the referendum illegal in September and sent policemen to intervene, causing almost 900 injuries; therefore, only 43% of Catalan citizens actually voted.
On October 10, Puigdemont signed a declaration of independence from Spain, but the Spanish government called it legally void because it was not voted on and it was signed outside of a parliamentary meeting.
Last Friday, October 27, the Catalan parliament, although they were missing 55 members—of a grand total of 135—who were opposed to the vote, officially passed the declaration of independence. Thousands of Catalans cheered as they sang their anthem. Carles Riera, a pro-independence Catalan, said, “We declare the Republic of Catalonia. This is a happy day.”
But not all Catalans supported the vote. Carlos Carrizosa addressed his government and president: “You’re like gods, above the law. How can you imagine you can impose independence like this without a majority in favour…and with this simulacrum of a referendum? Puigdemont will be remembered not for ruining Catalonia but for having divided the Catalans and Spain.”
Minutes afterward, the Spanish government approved Article 155 of their constitution, which had never been used before, giving the prime minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, the right to intervene in an autonomous community if it “fails to fulfill the obligations imposed upon it by the Constitution or other laws, or acts in a way seriously prejudicing the general interests of Spain.” Rajoy used the article to justify dissolving the Catalan parliament and firing their president.
“Today the Catalan parliament has approved something that, in the opinion of the great majority of people, is not just against the law, but is also a criminal act,” Rajoy said. He and the rest of the United Nations have refused to acknowledge Catalonia as its own country.
As members of the Catalan parliament are removed and new elections are held, citizens of Spain are unsure how pro-independence Catalans will react. Will they surrender to Spain or continue their fight for independence?