The Rise of Secessionism in Catalonia

Time has an interesting recent article highlighting the rise of secessionism in Catalonia. Many more Catalans than in the past want to secede from Spain because of the way the central government takes far more money out of the province than it puts back in:

Sept. 11 always brings Barcelonans into the streets to dance the sardana, sing for their enemies’ blood in the anthem “Els Segadors” and chant political slogans in celebration of their national holiday, the Diada de Catalunya. But this year, a new intensity colored the Catalans’ nationalist fervor. The independence movement’s flag bearing a white star against a blue triangle outnumbered the region’s official yellow-and-red-striped standard. A pro-independence march, which in the past has never drawn more than 50,000 people, pulled in a crowd estimated by city police at 1.5 million. And every newspaper in the city carried the results of a poll released this week that reveals a once unimaginable transformation: half the population of Catalonia supports secession from Spain.

“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. “Catalonia needs to be its own state….”

[T]he recent surge in secessionist support is closely tied to Spain’s economic crisis. Although Catalonia is the wealthiest region in Spain, it is also the most heavily in debt, running a fiscal deficit of 8%. Two weeks ago, it requested a 5 billion euro bailout from Spain’s central government, a request that prompted the president of the Extremadura region to complain that those funds would come “from the pockets of all Spaniards.” But in the minds of many Catalans, the region was simply asking for its own money to be fairly returned.

Under the current fiscal system, Catalonia collects taxes from its residents, but turns them over to the central government, which then disburses a designated amount to each region to pay for public salaries, social services, infrastructure and the like. In 2009, the latest year for which figures are available, Catalonia provided 19.49% of the federal government’s tax revenue, yet received only 14.03% of the state’s spending.

Reasonable people can differ on the question of whether or not Catalonia’s secessionists are justified in seeking independence from Spain. But this is one of many cases which shows that it is a mistake to praise or condemn all secession movements indiscriminately. Americans in particular should recognize that most secession movements abroad are very different from the South’s effort to secede for the purpose of protecting the evil institution of slavery. Secession movements in other countries often have very different and usually more admirable purposes. I outlined some thoughts on the moral standards to be applied to secession movements here.