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Catalan Independence: How Different from U.S. Declaration?

October 4th, 2017 · No Comments · Barcelona

By happenstance, we are in Barcelona, capital of Catalonia, a day or two ahead of what could be a momentous local decision — declaring independence from Spain.

We had planned months ago to meet up with a friend here, a leading tourist destination a few hours south of the Spain-France border.

We had no idea that the independence movement would choose the previous Sunday, October 1, to conduct a referendum. Nor that it would produce scenes of federal police roughing up Catalans attempting to vote.

The referendum violated Spanish law, the government said, and most outsiders seemed to agree on that point.

Yet, it went on, nonetheless, and 90-plus percent of those who voted endorsed a break from Spain — and an independent Catalonia.

It is easy to side with the considered constitutional opinions of Spanish jurists, as well as that of most European nations, which do not support Catalonia breaking away from Spain.

But at some point, those of us who come from a country that began with just such a declaration of independence … cannot help but see parallels to what is happening here.

And to sympathize with it as reflecting the will of a people to govern themselves.

Many Catalans have been yearning for independence for centuries. School children are taught about the disaster of 1714, when the Bourbon dynasty took control of Catalonia, ending independence there.

They see Spain and its government, as oppressors — just as rebellious American colonists viewed the British Empire and its king, George III, when they declared independence on July 4, 1776.

The Americans didn’t ask anyone’s permission. They certainly did not check to see if it violated any written agreement with the British, and neither have the Catalans.

To be sure, not everyone living in Catalonia desires independence, as was also the case in America.

A common estimate of American opinion, in 1776, was one-third pro-independence, one-third unsure and one-third against it. If anything, those living in Catalonia who favor independence seem to make up a higher percentage — 50 percent or greater — than America mustered in 1776.

Plus, the momentum seems to be on the side of the separatists. Most opinion leaders in the “autonomous community” seem to be in favor, especially since the wide viewing of federal police abusing would-be voters on Sunday, a sort of Boston Massacre moment (without the fatalities) that seems to have galvanized the supporters of independence.

It is easy to understand the reluctance of the Spanish government to have Catalonia leave. The latter produces a disproportionate share of the Spanish economy and has one of the highest per-capita incomes in the country.

Spain also fears that Catalonia leaving might prompt other restive regions of Spain, especially Basque country and perhaps Galacia, to reconsider independence. And “Spain” might eventually be reduced to a sad, small rump state.

But Catalonia has been the region most focused on breaking away. It deserves credit for persistence — and also for not resorting to violence. It has a language many in Spain do not understand, a deep sense of itself and far more history than did the United States when it broke away from Britain to “form a more perfect union”.

It also seems unlikely that Spain would attempt to use force to block independence. Fighting seems quite unlikely, in contrast to what followed (and preceded) the American declaration 241 years ago.

A Catalonia declaration seems only a matter of “when” now. It could be days or hours away. We may be here to witness it.



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