Catalans set to defy Spanish government and hold independence vote

Citizens of Catalonia, a wealthy Spanish province in the northeast of the country that enjoys a distinctive autonomy, are preparing to vote on an independence referendum on Sunday, despite fierce opposition from the Spanish government.  But many Catalans are shrugging off the threats from Madrid and plan to realize a lifelong dream of making Catalonia an independent state.

Spain has controlled Catalonia since the early 1700s, but the independence movement has received a boost in recent years.

New York Times:

In an age of fragmentation, the Catalan referendum stands apart. Unlike the Kurds, who voted overwhelmingly this week to separate from Iraq, Catalans, who live in an autonomous region in Spain's northeast, are not driven by an external threat or oppression. They live well, in the prosperous heart of Europe. Their grievances are old and bone-deep, reawakened by political movements, both in Catalonia and in Madrid, magnified by partisan news media on both sides, and accelerated by the Spanish government's blunt, reflexive clampdown.

That clampdown has intensified in recent weeks, as the Spanish government has confiscated millions of ballots and is looking to shutter polling places.


Spain's central government has issued stern warnings against the referendum, which the country's highest court has barred as unconstitutional. It has seized ballot papers and drafted thousands of extra national police, or Guardia Civil, in a bid to prevent it.

On Saturday, Guardia Civil officers also raided the Catalan government's telecommunications and information technology center, Joan Maria Piqué, the international communications director for the government of Catalonia, told CNN.

The raid was intended to stop the use of vote-counting software linked to Sunday's referendum, Piqué said, adding that the Catalan government has an alternative to the software.

There will be 2,315 polling stations across the region, mostly inside schools, Catalan government spokesman Jordi Turull told reporters Friday.

José Maria Salvatierra, a 55-year-old public worker, is a polling coordinator at a school. He told CNN that parents have planned activities such as soccer games and karaoke discos over the weekend so that police wouldn't have no legitimate reason to close the schools. Parents have also arranged to sleep in shifts on site as an additional precaution, he said.

"What we want, most of all, is to be able to vote," Salvatierra said. "Then, if 'yes' or 'no', it's up to each person."

Spain has come under international criticism for its harsh response to the referendum.  The Spanish supreme court has ruled the vote unconstitutional, and there is no chance that even a successful vote for independence will result in a Catalan state.  Separating from Spain is not universally supported in Catalonia, as many residents see continuing the political bond with Madrid a huge plus.

Spain is legally in the right to take the actions it has, but was it smart politics?  Catalonia is extremely important to the Spanish economy, and one of the issues driving independence is the perception that Madrid takes more in taxes than other regions and gives less back in government benefits.  A more equitable economic arrangement between the province and the national government would probably go a long way in cooling nationalist ardor.

But for the moment, Spain prefers the stick, and the stick is what Catalonia is going to get.

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