The pain in Spain's not easy to explain

By John Moody

Published September 30, 2017

As spoiled millionaire athletes continue to split America into quibbling camps, Spain is going to find out this weekend whether it can remain one country, and if Europe can truly be one united continent.

A referendum that is scheduled to take place Sunday will allow residents of Catalonia, the region that includes Barcelona, to vote on whether to declare their independence from Spain. Catalans have their own culture and language, and for the past two years, their political leadership has been promising citizens a vote. Spain’s Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, has said such a ballot would be invalid and in violation of Spain’s constitution.

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People hold Esteladas (Catalan separatist flags) as they wait for a closing rally in favour of the banned October 1 independence referendum in Barcelona, Spain September 29, 2017.  (REUTERS/Yves Herman)

The possibility that Catalonia would split off from Spain is very much like California’s “Calexit” movement. Politically and psychologically, the Golden State is different from America’s misnamed “flyover” states, so its aspirations to be independent are understandable. Just a few months ago, one independence movement said leaving the United States was the only way to defend “California values.”

So, too, Catalonia’s desire to pull away from the rest of Spain, of which it’s been a part since the 15th century, when King Ferdinand of Aragon married Queen Isabella of Castile and united their realms. Today, Catalonia is one of Spain’s economic engines, and Barcelona, its capital, is the country’s leading destination for tourists. So independence advocates have a legitimate claim that Catalonia gives more than it gets from the rest of the country.

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Pro-independence "Yes" banners adorn an apartment block ahead of a banned referendum on independence from Spain in Barcelona, Spain September 29, 2017.  (REUTERS/Juan Medina)

The latest opinion polls suggest Catalans are about evenly split on the question of secession. What makes this weekend so vital is that Rajoy’s government has gone to extraordinary lengths to try to prevent the vote from taking place. Catalan politicians who support it have been arrested and fined. The National Guard has been deployed to seal off polling places, and a national blitz of ads warns residents not to try to vote.

However the vote goes, or even if it does not take place, a lot of citizens of Catalonia are going to be unhappy. If they spill out into the streets to protest whatever happens, civil disorder is a real possibility.

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Students wear Esteladas (Catalan separatist flag) during a demonstration in favor of the banned October 1 independence referendum in Barcelona, Spain. The graffiti on the wall reads, "We will vote!"  (REUTERS/Jon Nazca)

That will further undermine the vision of Europe remaining a united entity.  Britain voted to leave the European Union last year, and similar nationalist movements are afoot in Italy, Hungary and Poland.

Despite the efforts of boosters like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, the one-Europe dream is in real trouble. That’s something Americans should consider as they squabble over whether their favorite tight end is on his feet or his knees while our beloved National, repeat National Anthem is played.

John Moody is Executive Vice President, Executive Editor for Fox News. A former Rome bureau chief for Time magazine, he is the author of four books including "Pope John Paul II : Biography."

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