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Catalonia National Day Turns into Demonstration in Madrid

September 14, 2012

National Flag of Catalonia

This past Tuesday, an estimated 1.5 million people came out to the streets of Madrid in protest of Spain’s control of the Catalan economy. September 11 marks Catalonia’s national day, a commemoration of the Siege of Barcelona 300 years ago. This year, however, the celebration turned into the biggest separatist demonstration ever staged in Madrid by the Catalan people, and it centered on the Catalan economy.

Spain is facing financial trouble within the Euro zone, with an unemployment rate at 25% and increasing tension between the government in Madrid and its debtors throughout the European Union. After the economic crises in Greece, Ireland, and Portugal, Spain has felt the strain on its national banks and domestic production, forcing it too to ask for monetary support from the EU. Further complicating the matter is the fact that Catalonia accounts for a fifth of the Spanish economy (Catalonia alone has an economy the size of Portugal’s).

However, Catalonia is in need of financial aid from the Spanish government as well. Though it is the autonomous region in Spain that contributes most significantly to the national economy, it is also the region with the most debt, causing the regional government to ask for aid from the national fund set up by the government in Madrid to help ailing Spanish regions. Yet Catalonia has long felt its contribution to the Spanish economy is taken advantage of, as taxes levied within the region are spent disproportionately elsewhere in Spain.

At its core, the protest on Tuesday reflected a long-held sentiment of separate identity and autonomist yearning amongst the Catalan people. Recent reports, however, suggest that only a relatively small percentage of the Catalan population is in favor of total political independence from Spain. The coincidence of Catalan’s national holiday with recent financial tensions between the region and the government in Madrid, though, added yet another nuance to this separatist sentiment- and could lead to demand for political action in the face of this financial crisis.

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