Almost as soon as I had previously finished writing about the problems of the Kurds in the aftermath of their lopsided vote for independence , it happens that in Europe similar events were taking place thanks to the problems of Catalonia with regards to Spain. Although I have not written about Catalonia as often or in such great length as Kurdistan , it is a separatist area that has long been on my own personal radar, ever since a chance encounter with a vacationing Catalan couple while we were waiting for planes in the disaster of a wildcat baggage handling strike in Philadelphia International Airport more than a decade ago led to an intriguing discussion that introduced me to the disaffection of the region with Spanish rule, something I had previously been unaware of. I have never forgotten the conversation, and so it has been with increased interest that I have viewed the efforts of the Catalans to get the attention of the European Union to allow for their separatist efforts to include European integration, a complicated task even in the best of circumstances.
One does not expect a wildcat secessionist vote in Europe to have the same sort of violence and general disaster as an election in Iraq, but Spain appears to be just as lunkheaded in dealing with Catalonia as Iraq is in dealing with Kurdistan, which is lamentable and deeply unfortunate. Unlike with Kurdistan, the lopsided vote for independence in Catalonia comes with a few asterisks, such as the fact that the referendum was boycotted by anti-independence Catalans that make up about 40% or so of the population and the fact that turnout was hindered by active efforts on the part of the Spanish police (include federalized Catalan units) to break up the “illegal” election and to arrest voters. I cannot help but thinking that this will backfire against Spain. To be sure, Catalonia is deeply divided about independence, like Scotland, but while the United Kingdom was able to make a successful appeal to barely keep Scotland in the UK democratically, Spain seems disinclined to trust powers of persuasion and has adopted an approach of coercion that is likely to alienate those moderate Catalans that will likely be pushed to a harder line if their longings for a more autonomous Catalonia are sabotaged by a repressive Spanish central government.
Why would Catalonia want to be independent from Spain? As most stories are, this one has a long backstory and a lot of context. During the Middle Ages Catalonia was a core region of Aragon, a Mediterranean-facing Iberian monarchy, while Castile and Leon were focused towards the remnants of Muslim rule in the Iberian peninsula. The two kingdoms were united through the marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castille, the same Ferdinand and Isabella who bankrolled Christopher Columbus and successfully completed the reconquista in the face of rising anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim feeling in Spain. For Catalonia, the personal union of Castille and Aragon was a mistake that they would try to undo, unsuccessfully, for centuries, as Catalan suffered periodic efforts at cultural genocide on the part of Spain’s efforts to make the area more Spanish, and Spanish absolutism and a decay of trade led to an erosion of rights. Several times in history the Catalans supported different candidates for the Spanish throne than the rest of Spain, but they inevitably ended up being forced back with Spain, often against their will, as was the case after the War of Spanish Succession in the early 18th century.
In the early 20th century, it appeared as if Catalonia was about to get some increased autonomy in the Spanish Republic of the early 1930’s, but the victory of the Nationalist forces in the Spanish Civil War brought Catalonia and the rest of Spain under repressive rule for decades. After Franco’s death Catalonia and the Basque region were given increased autonomy, but recent efforts on the part of Catalans to win their independence have triggered a great deal of repression on the part of Spain, and this recent election debacle will likely see Spain petulantly trying to repress the Catalan region still further, and likely with damaging results to the viability of the unitary Spanish state. There are plenty of areas of Spain that have their own local languages and a distinct culture from the core of Spain, and their sight of the Spanish reneging on constitutional guarantees in pique are not likely to make them more loyal citizens of the Spanish realm.
What is it that is making this independence squabble such a serious one? As it happens, Catalonia contributes about double the contributions in terms of taxation as it receives in services from the Spanish government. We have a restive area with a long history of cultural independence and a longstanding desire for greater autonomy and devolution that is bankrolling less developed areas of Spain. This is a situation that is ripe with all kinds of difficulties. If Catalonia was less wealthy, Spain would not be as likely to fight so hard to keep their wealth for its own socialist purposes. If Catalonia were less intent on greater autonomy and independence, Spain’s efforts at income equalization would be less problematic, but we have a situation where a central government is actively trying to kill the goose that lays the golden egg. Its insecurity and dependence is causing it to lash out and antagonize a region that is growing ever more hostile about Spanish central government of any kind. I say, good riddance. The Catalans have suffered from Spanish misrule for enough centuries. They can hardly do worse as an independent nation than they have fared under Spanish rule, and make an ideal case for a smaller member of the European Union. Unfortunately, this is a problem that is a lot likely to get worse before it gets better.
 But see, for example: