Sub-Nationalism in Spain: Catalonia

By Je Ru Lee

The world has been giving much attention to the Catalonia region of Spain lately due to the rise of its independence movement. The region, which consists of the provinces of Barcelona, Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona, enjoys a high degree of autonomy with its own parliament and executive (Catalonia Profile, 2015). Despite its privileges, in November 2014, 80% of Catalans who voted in a non-binding referendum called by the Catalan government demanded Catalan independence from Spain (Catalonia Timeline, 2015). In September 2015, the Catalan parliament passed a bill for Catalonia to secede from Spain in 18 months (Catalonia Parliament Votes, 2015). Although the Spanish Constitutional Court ruled the Catalonia decision to secede unconstitutional, Catalan independence movement is still going strong and the new Catalan leader, MR. Puigdemont, is still going with the plan to secede (New Catalonia, 2016). There are many factors that contribute to the independence movement, including the Catalan ethnicity, the economic downturn, and football.


Pro-independence citizens hold up giant letters reading ”We are ready, Independence” during the final meeting before the 9N (November 9) consultation, in Barcelona November 7, 2014. (Reuters; Gustau Nacarino)

Catalonia has a rich history that started as a kingdom in the 12th century. The region then came under the rule of the kingdom of Aragon, and was united with the kingdom of Castile in 1469 with the marriage of Ferdinand II and Isabella. This alliance laid the foundation of Spain, and Catalonia had since enjoyed various degrees of autonomy and suffered political suppression (Catalonia Timeline, 2015). The Catalan identity revival is closely tied to its culture and language. Industrialization in the 19th century caused people to migrate from rural to urban areas, and people started to question their identity. The modern Catalan nationalism started to flourish around that time period (Barnes, 2013). However, under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco from 1939 to 1975, Catalonia suffered from political and cultural suppression. Catalan language use and cultural activities were banned (Catalonia Timeline, 2015). Nevertheless, Catalan identity and nationalism persevered.


After the fall of the Franco dictatorship and the establishment of democracy, the Catalan regional government was restored and the status of Catalan “nationality” was given. Although not recognized as a separate country, Catalonia is an autonomous region and its language is recognized as one of Spain’s official languages (Catalonia Profile, 2015). Things were good for a while, until the economic crisis that started in 2008 in Spain. The crisis spurred nationalist sentiment in Catalonia, and informal independence votes were conducted across the region (Catalonia Timeline, 2015). Catalans are discontent with the fact that it has been suffering from fiscal imbalance of between 7.5 to 10 percent, the highest number of fiscal imbalance of regions in the EU. This has impeded the Catalan development and angered Catalans, who are demanding to separate from Spain (Desquens, 2003).


Football is loved by so many people in the world that it has become uniquely intertwined in politics. FC Barcelona has become an important symbol of Catalonia, not only for its entertaining nature but also its cultural values. Catalan fans of the team project the fight between Catalonia and Spain to the matches between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, and they would hold up Catalan flag and chant for their Catalonia and their team (Tremlett, 2011). With the Catalan identity firmly established and outside factors that drive the Catalans to take more aggressive actions towards secession, the Spanish central government, the EU, and the international community will track the changing situations more closely than ever.