Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Barcelona on Monday, as they do every September 11, to celebrate the Diada de Catalunya, or Day of Catalonia. However Spain’s worsening financial crisis added an air of unrest to the normally jovial celebration as outraged Catalonians protested about having to pay more than their fair share in taxes to Madrid's federal government.
As the Catalonian independence movement’s flag of a white star against a blue triangle waved in the air, an estimated 1.5 million took to the streets of Barcelona in a protest for secession from Spain. These marches normally only draw around 50,000 people.
“We have no other option since our will has been totally ignored” says Soledat Balaguer, a member of the secretariat of the Catalan National Assembly, organizers of the demonstration that shut down the city center, according to Time Magazine. “Catalonia needs to be its own state.”
Political unrest in the Catalan region has been simmering for years after parts of a 2006 statute, approved in a Catalonia-wide referendum, that would have given significant powers to the state was deemed unconstitutional by the central Spanish Government.
The worsening financial crisis throughout Europe, which has hit Spain particularly hard, has only added to the Catalan resentment of Spain’s central government. As one of the country’s wealthiest regions, it is also the one most heavily in debt – with an 8 percent deficit.
Catalans complain that their taxes have been mismanaged and that the 5 billion euro bailout the region asked for two weeks ago is money that should be returned to Catalonia. Catalan residents currently pay taxes to the region, which is then handed to Madrid. The capital city then distributes certain amount to each region to pay for things such as schools, infrastructure and the like.
Catalonia provided 19.49 percent of the federal government’s tax revenue in 2009, while only receiving 14.03 percent of the state’s spending.
Artur Mas i Gavarró, the President of the Generalitat de Catalunya, said Wednesday that he supports the protestors claims for Catalonia to become an independent state, but warned that the process would not be easy and unprecedented in the European Unions.
"Nothing will be easy but anything is possible,” Mas said, according to the Catalonian daily La Vanguardia.
Mas will meet with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on September 20, where the two will discuss a fiscal reform that would enable his government to collect its own taxes and for Madrid to turn over a designated amount to Catalonia.
“Anything is possible if there is a will, large majorities and the ability to resist," Mas said."Now it's about giving a little more breadth."
Spain’s own financial crisis began as part of the world’s financial crisis in the late 2000 and continued into Europe’s debt crisis, which has effected mostly the nation’s of southern Europe and Ireland. Long-term loans, the building market crash that included the bankruptcy of major companies, and a particularly severe increase in unemployment, which as of March hovered at 24.4 percent, have all contributed to Spain’s financial dire straits.
Secession and independence movements have been common for decades in Spain. During the 1936-1939 Civil War, the anti-fascist Republican forces were hindered by regional groups concerns for their own independent states including those of the Spanish regions of Andalusia and the Basque country, along with Catalonia.
In the past 50 years, the Basque group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), which stands for Basque Homeland and Freedom, has become a notorious nationalist and separatist group in Spain. Since 1968, ETA has been held responsible for killing 829 individuals, injuring thousands and undertaking dozens of kidnappings.
They currently have a cease fire with the Spanish government.