The eleventh of September is commemorated as the National Day of Catalonia. On this date in 1714, Catalan troops supporting the Habsburgs surrendered to the Bourbon Philip V of Spain, ending the fourteen-month Siege of Barcelona. The battle marked the end of the War of the Spanish Succession.
Recently, nationalist fervour has been growing.
In 2012, one and a half million people marched through Barcelona to support Catalonian independence. The city came to a standstill and police were out in force, ready to quell any disturbance. Many American, Scottish and Basque flags flew that day or were hung from balconies and windows. This year Catalans are forming a human chain by holding hands along the whole coast of Catalonia. The event is expected to draw at least three million.
It is not only for historical reasons that Catalonia seeks independence.
It is in debt to the tune of 41 billion euros, despite being the biggest tax contributor to the Central Government. Each year 10% of its GDP is given to the Central Government’s rescue fund. Last year it had to ask for a 5-billion euro bailout.
The biggest recipient of the rescue fund is Andalucia. It relies heavily on the tourist industry during summer, but for the rest of the year workers claim unemployment benefit. The present unemployment rate is 33% with 58% youth unemployment. Another poor area is Cantabria. Its agricultural industry has seen an increase in unemployment recent years thanks to the Spanish consumer’s fondness for cheap imports.
So what happened to the money in the good years.
It was frittered away on white elephant construction projects like Castellon airport in Valencia which cost 130 million euros. It opened in March 2011 and has yet to receive a single commercial flight. And of course there was the housing boom which saw prices triple over the years. In fact, more homes were built-in Spain than in the United Kingdom, Germany and France combined. Now the country is littered with over half a million unsold homes and two hundred thousand which are partly completed.
How could this happen?
In a nutshell – corruption. In the Balearic Islands the construction industry is involved in 21 out of the 29 public fraud scandals. King Juan Carlos’s son-in-law, Urdangarin, allegedly persuaded the Spanish administration to sign agreements with his company the Noos Institute, a non-profit organisation. The former mayors in Marbella and Malaga have been investigated for corruption.
Strangely though, that did not deter the electorate. In the regional elections of 2008, seventy per cent of the seven hundred politicians in Spain convicted of corruption were re-elected.
Would Catalonia be any different?
Of course we won’t know that until it achieves independence. In this respect it puts itself on a par with Scotland which will have a referendum on independence in 2014. If they both succeed, will that cause a domino effect for many other regions and countries which want to break away?
Maybe the answer lies with Gibraltar, a British colony on the southern tip of Spain, which has sought UEFA membership, although Spain plans to block it. If Gibraltar succeeds, perhaps it will pave the way for regions elsewhere to take the first step to independence via sport.
However, as history has shown, countries don’t allow regions to secede without a fight as Yugoslavia and the southern states of America can testify. It takes civil war. Hopefully, bloodshed can be avoided and breakaway regions can split amicably like Czechoslovakia did when it split into two different countries on January 1st, 1993.
Who knows which if Catalonia will choose 9/11 as Independence day when it secedes? If it does, then for once 9/11 will be a date to celebrate as well as mourn.
The Man Who Wept Blood