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How did an independence vote become such a headache for Catalan nationalists?

Barcelona staged a vote on independence on Sunday, just days ahead of the Catalan parliament’s own debate on the same issue. But the region’s governing CiU nationalists are finding it hard to know where to stand.


Two very different interpretations can be made of the referendum organised on April 10 in Barcelona by a Catalan nationalist group. With just over 90 percent of votes backing the motion of an independent Catalonia, it could be argued this was an overwhelming success. But only one in five voters took part and the ballot is not legally binding, instead it is an attempt to promote separatism and the profile of those who want to break away from Spain.

The organisers insisted that a 20-percent turnout was in fact a victory in itself, given that the series of similar referendums held in previous months across the region saw lower participation. Given the merely symbolic nature of this vote, their argument has some weight.

But while this is a fairly clearcut success for radical Catalan nationalists, it’s rather more difficult for the moderates. For the governing CiU it has become a nightmare distraction, with the party’s stance on independence coming under scrutiny and revealing some major divisions.

Several senior CiU figures voted in favour of independence on Sunday, most notably Catalan premier Artur Mas and his deputy, Joana Ortega. But CiU’s spokesman in the Spanish Congress, Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida, did not take part and has insisted that independence was not on the party’s manifesto when it won 2010’s regional elections.

“Independence is all very well, but in the street all people talk about is unemployment,” he said. Duran i Lleida’s approach is ruffling feathers in his own party but it shows he is more in touch with popular feeling than many of his colleagues.

On Wednesday the Catalan parliament is due to discuss a law to declare an independent Catalonia. Mas has said he will not back this motion, citing similar arguments to Duran i Lleida. The problem is, his position on this now looks decidedly flip-floppy: in the space of four days he is giving opposing signals on the same issue. Given the unique complications of Catalan politics, perhaps this is understandable, but it just shows how “armchair separatism” is becoming a headache for the Catalan government.

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Published: Apr 12 2011
Category: Iberoblog
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8 Comments for “How did an independence vote become such a headache for Catalan nationalists?”

  1. I don’t know how ANYONE can see a mere 20% vote in favor as a victory (and they only got 21% participation because it was a beautiful spring day and they had been out doing mock votes across the city for three months just to try to get the participation up). 20% in favor of breaking up a country is a mandate?? 80% said no, we’re not interested. And although this was unofficial, it had the backing of all government institutions, financial backing and full media coverage and support. We do live in a democracy in Spain (and Catalonia). Let’s not forget that. A VAST MAJORITY IS NOT INTERESTED IN SECESSION FROM SPAIN. LET’S RESPECT THE WILL OF THE MAJORITY!!!

  2. Vicenç R.Grimà

    “…organised (…) by a Catalan nationalist group.” This is not true.

    “…it is an attempt to promote separatism.” This is not true.

    “Duran i Lleida’s approach (…) shows he is more in touch with popular feeling than many of his colleagues.” This is just your opinion.

    Obviously your approach shows you’re more in touch with Spanish centralist feeling (denying nations’ right to self-determination) than most democrats in the world.

    • Describing Barcelona Decideix as a nationalist group seems quite accurate to me. After all, they have organised a referendum on independence (so I assume they have nationalist sympathies, at least).

      The vote does seem to be a promotion of separatism in that it is a symbolic initiative, rather than legally binding.

      And yes, my thoughts on what Duran i Lleida said are my opinion – but I believe it’s a fairly reasonable one: ie, most people are more worried about the economy or unemployment than independence.

  3. Quite simply, more than 80% have no interest in the independent of Catalonia. These are similar figures as in the Basque country.

  4. Vicenç R.Grimà

    “…they have organized a referendum on independence (so I assume they have nationalist sympathies.” You’re right, many of their members, maybe most of them, have independentist (please, not “nationalist”) sympathies, but Barcelona Decideix as itself is not an independentist group. Greatest efforts have been done to make it clear to all media. Obviously, not enough.

    Just think about this:
    Thousands of volunteers all over the nation have mobilized in an unprecedented initiative, wasting their time, money and health (I know what I’m talking about) with the only aim of giving people the opportunity to express their opinion on this issue. They haven’t invested these energies in promoting independence nor trying to convince anyone about the advantages of having their own state. Why? maybe because they believe in Democracy before than in independence. Maybe because the Spanish Constitution is not as democratic as it’s believed to be, as it doesn’t permit the exercise of the right to self-determination, preventing the mere possibility of an official referendum on this issue and, what is even more significant, establishes the Army as the guarantor of Spain’s unity.

    20% turnout may seem rather poor, but bear in mind that more than a half of the Catalan population doesn’t even know that these ballots have been held. Those who watch only Spanish channels or read only Spanish papers (if any) haven’t had any information about it. Again I know what I’m talking about as for three months I’ve been almost every day on the streets of some of those Spanish immigrants’ quarters collecting early vote and informing passers-by. And to my surprise, many of those whom I could talk to, non Catalan-speaking old people who arrived from southern Spain’s villages to Barcelona in the sixties and have contributed with their 40 years of hard work to the construction of this country, after hearing the referendum’s question (a question that has been kind of taboo during centuries) decided to vote. And most of them voted YES. My initial astonishment rapidly turned into hope. Hope in the future of this country.

    So please don’t draw easy conclusions from the turnout figures because the matter is not easy; it’s extremely complex. Anyway, thanks a lot for your article. I mean that most sincerely.

    • ” I’ve been almost every day on the streets of some of those Spanish immigrants’ quarters “. Well. First. No Spanish inmigrants are in quarters. They are in a Spanish town. So they are not “inmigrants”. Is a Texas person considered inmigrant in New York? Seemasly not..

  5. from La vanguardia it is 49% in favor of independence, 42 % against and about 9% abstentionisim.

    Please dont say 80% of the people dont care. That is simply propaganda. There were over 1 million people marching in passieg de gracia in favor of independence before. There is 7 million people in Catalunya and lets say 3 million are under 18. Your 80% number doesnt add up

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