Back in August, when I was preparing for my departure to study abroad in Madrid, the last thought on my mind was Catalonia declaring independence from Spain. From my understanding of the issue, it would not affect me because I was not going to be living in Barcelona.
It was also never much of a question for me — Catalonia is Spain.
I thought that traveling outside the U.S. meant leaving the political discourse I am so constantly flooded with at home. The first question I am regularly asked though, after stating that I am American, is whether or not I voted for Trump.
I quickly learned that I will never get a break from politics, regardless of how far I manage to escape from the U.S.
In Spain, Trump’s divisive politics and rhetoric have proven to be a prominent topic of conversation, as I imagine is the case for many other European countries. Yet, even more ubiquitous than Trump, is the independence of Catalonia from Spain.
To understand why so many Catalans desire independence, it is important to have some background knowledge of the area’s history.
In the past, Catalonia was an independent region located in the northeast region of Spain. Prior to the Spanish Civil War, Catalonia was relatively autonomous, meaning that it had the freedom to make certain self-governing decisions. General Francisco Franco, however, led the region to lose its autonomy when he ruled Spain from 1939 to 1975, according to History.com. After his death and the return of democracy to Spain, Catalonia was once again autonomous in 1977, according to The Telegraph.
About a month into my study abroad experience, the Office of International Education emailed students studying in Europe informing us about an independence referendum that would be held in Catalonia on Oct. 1. Students in Barcelona, specifically, were advised to avoid protests happening throughout the city that weekend.
Those of us studying in Madrid received a warning from one of the coordinators of our program here as well, to use extra caution during the two weeks leading up to the referendum.
There are people who believe that Catalonia is still lacking the freedom and power from the Spanish government that it deserves. In their eyes, the region should be permitted to govern itself entirely. Others disagree with this idea of Catalonia gaining its independence as they think it already has enough freedom to regulate itself. The central Spanish government, however, banned the vote, declaring the referendum “illegal,” according to CNN.
The Spanish government had the authority to deem this vote unconstitutional, according to the New York Times.
For this reason, I feel that it was irresponsible and unlawful of Catalonia’s regional government to hold elections and a referendum that was explicitly prohibited by the laws of Spain. Even so, if I had been able to vote in this referendum, my ballot would have been cast against Catalan independence.
I absolutely understand the feelings of those who are adamantly fighting for their independence: they are a part of a society with its own cultural, historical and linguistic differences, tired of having minimal say in its legislative decisions. The most effective solution though, would not be to separate from a country it is already considered a part of, but to unify with it and resist from within.
Spain already has a constitution and it is imperative that all regions of the country abide by that constitution and work within the frame of its regulations to solve any regional differences.
The complications associated with seceding from Spain are many, and they could result in enormous damaging effects on the economy as well as the social and political stability of the region.
Not only would an independent Catalonia be required to institute its own inland revenue or central bank, but the region would also need to authorize its own customs and border regulations, according to The Guardian. Furthermore, an autonomous Catalonia would have to begin negotiating its own trade agreements, without the help of Spain. Unfortunately, Catalans would no longer be considered European or Spanish citizens, creating difficulties for their own travel needs.
At first, I felt as though I was not entitled to an opinion on this matter because, after all, I am not a Spanish citizen. Yet, living in Madrid for the past two and a half months has taught me that my American citizenship does not invalidate my thoughts or impressions.
The Madrileños are some of the most outspoken people I have ever met — they will tell you how they feel, when they want. Coming from a country that is so insistent on being politically correct, I was shocked to be told things so bluntly here. I have come to appreciate it though because I no longer have to wonder what those around me are thinking.
In the weeks prior to and after the referendum, Madrid became a city camouflaged in red and yellow, the country’s national colors. The Spanish flag was draped wherever it possibly could be; it was hung from the balconies, windows, and doors of buildings as an act of solidarity.
Seeing these flags made me proud of where I was and appreciative to be living in a place where people can civilly communicate their views, even if it just means displaying a flag outside their homes.
I understand that protests can transform into dangerous events if violence is promoted, but there will always be a peaceful way to articulate our feelings.
We don’t have to attend demonstrations we feel uncomfortable with, but by educating ourselves about a current political debate happening in our countries of residence, we are doing a lot more than we may realize. ¡Que viva España!
Contributor Jasmine Fernandez is currently studying abroad in Madrid, Spain. Contact Jasmine at firstname.lastname@example.org.