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CWA # 344, 17 September 2020

GLOBAL PROTEST MOVEMENTS
Rise of the middle class: Independence protest movements in Catalonia

  Unnikrishnan M J

A sense of injustice and ignorance from the Spanish Government were the motivators for the movement. Along with this, the after effects of the global economic crisis made the living conditions of people much worse. This pushed the middle class, who constitute the major portion of the Catalan population, into the streets demanding for an independent Catalonia.

Background

Catalonia possesses an inherent nationalism. The wave of a series of demonstrations and protest movements that started after 2008 was contributed by various reasons. It was not a spontaneous uprising. An already existing social base was shaped to evolve into a movement. Apart from the nationalist feelings, many other factors pushed the Catalans to enter into a movement for independence and to establish a sovereign Catalan State. The people of Catalonia were dissatisfied with the fiscal policies of Madrid. A sense of injustice and ignorance from the Spanish Government were the motivators for the movement. Along with this, the after effects of the global economic crisis made the living conditions of people much worse. This pushed the middle class, who constitute the major portion of the Catalan population, into the streets demanding for an independent Catalonia. Two hypotheses have been drawn from these which are: first, apart from nationalist feelings other socio- fiscal reasons have also contributed to the mobilization of a large number of Catalans. Second, the majority of pro-independence supporters and protestors involved in the movement are middle class Catalans.

Causes, Concerns and Fallouts

Firstly, Catalonia is a region with a distinct culture and language. They have their regional parliament, flag and other national symbols. The region has been demanding for more autonomous powers since very long. The indigenous Catalan population saw themselves different from rest of the Spanish population. Catalan nationalism fundamentally revolves around the defence and promotion of Catalan language and culture. Some of the social and fiscal disturbances added fuel to the Catalan nationalism which remained dormant in the minds of people till then.

Secondly, Catalonia being a wealthy region constitutes around 20 per cent of Spanish GDP. Catalonia complains that Madrid takes huge taxes-revenues from them but has not been returning and spending proportionate amounts for their welfare. A strong sense grew in the minds of Catalans that they are paying for what doesn’t correspond to them. People started to have the urge of resistance against fiscal transfer to poorer regions. Also, the global economic crisis of 2008 had huge impacts especially on the Catalan middle class. Some of the sections in the middle class experienced direct poverty maybe for the very first time. The comparative privileges they experienced became subject to severe constrictions. Middle class youths and children’s expectations of a stable and prosperous future became bleak and many turned to be a new poor. People of Catalonia found political expression of the dissatisfaction following the economic crisis.

Third reason which intensified the crisis is the mode in which both the blocs, i.e., Catalan nationalist and Spanish Government approached the situation. The demand for secession of Catalonia was rejected by Spain. Madrid tried to suppress the movements and protests with heavy forces and this elevated the intensity of the crisis and a solution through discussion became distant. Catalonia was also not moving back from their demand for independence and adopted violent means to put Madrid in pressure. These led to ruthless street clashes some of them even lasting for days. The Catalan popular movement is a series of incidents, protests and disturbances extending over years and still unpredictably ongoing.

Click the PDF file to read the full essay. It was first published in the NIAS Quarterly on Contemporary World Affairs, Vol 2, Issues 2&3. 

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