Geopolitics

In Barcelona, Rising Calls For Separatism To Cut Catalonia Free From Spain's Debt

Marching on Barcelona, Sept. 11 2012
Marching on Barcelona, Sept. 11 2012
Sandrine Morel

BARCELONA – Making headway through the streets of Barcelona, closed to traffic for the occasion, seemed almost impossible. A crowd of children, students, retired people, business owners, and the unemployed coming from every part of Catalonia had joined together to wave yellow-and-red flags and voice their support for the creation of an independent state for the “Catalan people.”

According to local police, nearly 1.5 million people --600,000, according the central government --took part in last week's march between Passeig de Garcia and Parliament. They were responding to a call from a group of pro-independence organizations, the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), who rallied them all with the slogan “Catalonia, the next European state.”

Every year, several separatist movements march together on September 11th, Catalan’s national day, la Diada, to commemorate the 1714 siege of Barcelona by Spain's Bourbon troops. Never has the rally been so popular. This time, with the approval of the regional government, separatist organizations gathered for a display of force against “Spain, Europe and the world.”

This success reflects a growing separatist sentiment within Catalan society, extending from the upper classes to the working class, from the right to the left. The economic crisis has fueled the movement with new recruits. For the first time ever, a poll carried out by local authorities has shown that an absolute majority of Catalans, 51.1% to be precise, would vote “yes” on a referendum for independence. This is eight points higher than in 2011.

Paying for the less productive states

The idea that Catalonia would do better without Spain has gained ground. Politically speaking, Catalans are still bitter about the 2010 ruling by the Constitutional Court of Spain, which rejected several articles of a new autonomous status meant to redefine the relationship between the region and Madrid. They no longer accept that a large part of Catalonia’s revenues are used to compensate poorer regions. According to the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition (CiU), Catalonia pays at least 16 billion euros -- 8% of the region’s GDP -- in taxes per year to Madrid. This “fiscal deficit” is even harder to accept as Catalonia has also been hit by the crisis.

“Many people have realized today that independence is the only solution,” said Carme Forcadell, the ANC’s president. “We give a lot to Spain and don’t receive much in return, whilst thousands of Catalans struggle to make ends meet.”

With an unemployment rate of 22%, the implementation of harsh austerity measures and difficulties to finance itself on markets (it recently requested a bailout from Madrid), Catalonia is growing frustrated with Spain’s “solidarity between regions” principle.

"Spain doesn’t treat us well, especially on economic issues," says Jesús, a policeman in his forties, marching with his wife. “An economic driving force like Catalonia cannot continue to receive fewer funds than the less productive regions,” he believes.

“We are told about the risks of independence, but we never hear about the risks of dependence,” says Joán, a communication manager in public administration, in his thirties. “Spain is sinking and we don’t want to drown with it. Our economy has a future, Spain’s does not.”

Artur Mas, the head of Catalonia’s regional government, who supported the Sept. 11th march and called for massive participation, is likely to use the rally’s high turnout to negotiate a “fiscal pact” with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to give Catalonia financial and fiscal freedom, in other words to collect its own taxes and do what it wants with them.

“If there is not an agreement on the economic basics, Catalonia’s way to independence is open," Mas warned, threatening to call for early elections. Rajoy has already rejected this idea. “Catalonia has severe deficit and unemployment issues,” he said on September 3. “This is not the time for back-room deals, conflicts, or polemics. It is time to unite and work together.”

In using the threat of independence, Artur Mas is taking a big risk. He needs the support of the People’s Party MPs in Madrid to govern the region, and he needs the central State to pay his bills: Catalonia is Spain’s most indebted region. Unable to reduce its public deficit in 2011, and shut out of financial markets, Catalonia requested a 5-billion-euro bailout in early September to repay its expiring credits. Not really the best time to be asking for autonomy from Madrid.

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Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.

[*Danish]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

98

For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.

🇮🇷🎓  IN OTHER NEWS

Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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