Catalonia's Call for Independence.
Since at least the 1930s, Catalonia's separatists have attempted to secede from the rest of Spain, an action which the central government of Spain has never approved. Recently, Catalans have reenergized the movement for independence, receiving support from the majority of their people, as evidenced by multiple referendums since the turn of the century.
While recent economic problems may have taken Catalonia back to the question of independence, it is also true that there are cultural and historical aspects at play. Catalans have been able to continue a distinct culture, even though they have taken part in the broader Spanish culture as well. After all, Catalans have their own language, Catalan, which contributes to the uniqueness of the Catalan identity. Catalonia's call for independence features two fundamental but underemphasized facets of history and culture.
The economic crisis in Spain has magnified historical calls for independence. Many Catalans believe their affluent region pays more to Madrid than it gets back and blame much of Spain's 2008 debt crisis on the central government.
Historically, and perhaps more importantly, Catalonia has been mistreated by the central government in Madrid. While obviously to a lesser extent, some similarities can be drawn between the current policies of Spain's central government and the rule of Franco, the fascist dictator from four decades ago. In 1939, Franco, as part of an effort to put an end to regionalism, banned all specifically Catalan institutions, such as the Government of Catalonia.
Through this emphasis on obedience, Franco completely erased the concept of autonomy for regions like Catalonia. After his death, however, it was given limited autonomy. More recently, the separatist movement was revived after a Constitutional Court decision in 2010 to reinterpret parts of Catalonia's statute of autonomy, a direct infringement on their right to self-determination.
Conflicts became even more intensified when Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy recently used special constitutional powers to remove Catalonia's president and his government. While not by any means reaching the depravities of the Franco regime, the recent infringements on Catalan autonomy have gained the appearance by their capacity to trigger memories of the Franco years. As observed in these acts of historical oppressiveness against Catalans, the call for independence in Catalonia has existed for much longer.
At this point, it is hard to tell whether Catalonia will succeed in its continued pursuit of independence, which deems it necessary to consider whether and how Catalonia can satisfactorily continue as part of Spain.
While the common characterization of the conflict lies in the economic drain, we can see that there are more fundamental causes of ethnicity and history. With these causes in mind, Madrid's current policies must be changed to encourage region-state dialogue through the creation of a joint task force to which representatives of the regional government could be invited.
Methods of submission from the central government will cause more dissent due to the Catalans' inherently different culture. Based on the past resistance to Franco's regime, we see the need for the central government to respect regional autonomy; at the same time, the central government's desire for continued political unity is understandable.
A joint taskforce offers the opportunity to balance these two opposing impulses, reflecting the unique historical circumstances at play. Even if Catalonia continues to be a part of Spain, the way to maximize harmony is to allow regional autonomy without the government imposing any culture on them. Catalans have called, and it is time for Madrid to answer with the full awareness of history.