20:24 GMT +321 October 2018
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    The Crucial Importance of the Economy in the Catalonian Crisis

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    John Harrison
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    The drive for Catalonian independence has been put down to political and cultural issues, which can be used to explain the huge increase in support for independence over the past 10 years. But perhaps we should also consider the role that the Spanish and the global economies are playing in this crisis.

    Dr Andrew Dowling, a senior lecturer in Hispanic Studies at Cardiff University in the UK, and the author of: The Rise of Catalan Independence: Spain’s Territorial Crisis, explains his understanding of the situation.

    Dr Dowling starts the program by pointing out one very interesting point. “In 1975, just when Franco dies, there was an opinion poll of how many Catalans wanted independence. It was only 5%. 30 years later, when we get to 2005, it was still only 12% or 15%. So actually, Catalans wanting to separate from Spain is quite a new phenomenon.”

    The important question is whether or not Catalonian culture is powerful enough to create an independent identity. Dr Dowling says: “It is absolutely true to say that for most of the 20th century and for most of the 19th century there isn’t a very important pro-independence culture at all. It is a minority trend within the culture. If we think about the end of the Franco regime, the idea was to restore self-government so that there is a regional parliament like there is in Scotland, but they were not calling for independence. …Now, rightly or wrongly, things have dynamically changed, people have begun to feel that independence is something tangible and possible. The way that it becomes tangible and possible is to do with the economic crisis. The economic crisis that hit Europe and the world after 2008 changes everything.”

    Dr Dowling feels that the fey factor for the drive towards independence is the economy: “I think that what we get over the course of the 1990s and going into the 2000s is a growing sense of discontent, but it doesn’t really manifest itself in terms of independence. As I mentioned, even as late as 2005, it is only at 12%. The figure does start to rise after 2005, but the economic crisis, is the accelerator. …All the pre-existing grievances which were political or cultural are transformed by the incredible impact of the economic crisis.”

    As a reply to a question about existing cultural differences between Catalonians and most Spanish, Dr Dowling says: “the interesting thing is that today, the cultural differences are actually smaller than they were 100 years ago. What we call patterns of consumption, habits, social activities, things like sport to television to shopping, all those kinds of things that all other Europeans do, are actually not that large. But what is really important to Catalans is their language. This is one of the most fundamental things about who they are. …Spain is a Catholic country, there is no religious dynamic for this conflict.”

    To the question: If Spain should solve its economic difficulties, will this whole question fade away?,” Dr Dowling answers: “Not necessarily, the economic crisis changed perceptions of Spain for many Catalans, and the situation in a sense has got worse, year by year in a political sense, where Madrid hasn’t made concessions to Catalonia. In fact I think now there is a solid block of Catalans who, in my view, around 40%, possible higher, who have permanently broken with Spain in the sense that they no longer want to know anything about that country. Even if Spain is able to defeat the Catalans now in the next two or three months or something, it is going to be very difficult for the government in Madrid to continue to govern a territory where at least 40% of the population no longer want to be part of that country. …The blame game is very important, and Spain is used as the scapegoat for all sorts of problems.”

    The problem is exacerbated because most Spaniards see Catalonia as part of Spain. Dr Dowling cites what some Spaniards say in different parts of Spain: “If Catalonia left, it’d be like losing my right arm.”

    As for the future, Dr Dowling says: “we are probably going to be dealing with low-intensity impact for quite some time, where Catalan independence is consolidated around that block of 40%, maybe 45% but it is not yet strong enough to break with Spain. I think if things change and it becomes a 60% movement the dynamics will change, and I think then you could begin to see the real possibility of Catalonia breaking with Spain. But we should also remember that Catalonia comprises of one fifth of Spain’s economy, so the idea of Catalonia suddenly departing from Spain would be an unbelievably large economic trauma that would have real knock-on effects in the rest of Europe. This explains why Brussel’s official line is to support the unity of Spain. …If the Catalans leave you could have a scenario where the rest of Spain would crumble, which is why Madrid has an unyielding line of no independence, no separation, and no referendum either.”

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    Catalonia Independence Referendum, Carles Puigdemont, Mariano Rajoy, Europe, Catalonia, Spain
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