But it's not just financial woes that are rocking Spain; they have additionally sparked a move by Catalonia, the country's most northeasters province, to separate from the rest of Spain.
Despite some politicians trying to claim the contrary, Tuesday's (September 11th's] million-and-a-half-strong demonstration in Barcelona was a mass call for the independence of Catalonia. The obvious explanation for the high turnout is the devastating impact of Spain's economic crisis, which in the last year saw a further 800,000 added to the jobless. This has been accompanied by a political crisis exemplified by the "indignados" protests, in which one in four Spaniards participated.Catalonian independence is by no means a new idea, but until recently, it had appeared to be resolved:
For the 40 years after [Franco's] victory [in the Spanish Civil War], expressions of Catalan-national identity were repressed. Yet by the 1960s a new Catalan movement emerged under the leadership of Jordi Pujol, who would become Catalan president when regional autonomy was restored after Franco's death. Pujol managed to align Catalan nationalism with the workers' movement and the Communist party – giving catalanisme a progressive identity.So how does this relate to austerity measures imposed by Madrid? Recent moves by Catalonia for increased independence had been suppressed by the central government. Moreover, as a relatively wealthy state, Catalonia has over the last few years experiences relative outflows of capital to the rest of Spain, yet Madrid has not invested in Catalonian infrastructure:
Yet if anything, Tuesday's march seems to indicate that Pujol's Convergence and Union (CiU) – an elitist and conservative coalition – is now lagging behind the popular mood in the region. The party has taken no serious steps towards independence – but now the majority of Catalans say they would support independence if a referendum were called.
Despite Barcelona being an economic pole comparable to Madrid, a new high-speed railway network connected several other regional centres to the Spanish capital before reaching Barcelona. Unlike in the rest of Spain, Catalonia's motorway system has received almost no investment.On the flip side, however, Catalonia has borrowed as much as 5 billion Euro from Madrid. Madrid's apparent drive to reduce spending (therefore likely reducing further loans to Catalonia) appears to have induced Artur Mas, president of Catalonia, to call for snap elections November 25 (for regional parliamentary seats, two years ahead of schedule).
The vote is widely seen as a de facto referendum on his demands for greater independence for the region after Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy last week rejected proposals for a new fiscal pact which would grant Catalonia greater taxing and spending powers.This is no small matter; Spain has the twelfth largest economy in the world, and the fourth largest in the Eurozone, and Catalonia accounts for roughly a fifth of that output. This is no Greece in trouble.
"The time has come to exercise the right to self-determination," Mr Mas told the regional parliament in Barcelona on Tuesday.
"We do not have to justify who we are. We want the same instruments that other nations have to preserve our common identity," he said.
Predictably, Spain's central government has pushed back, and Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria warned that there could be no independence referendum without the rest of the country's permission, and that "the state would use every means at its disposal to stop the move," while Secretary General Dolores de Cospedal warned that the central government would use "anything it could to halt the 'illegal' vote."
Imagine for a moment a California or New York threatening to secede from the United States because the federal government was mired in debt and forced Californians and New Yorkers to send more tax dollars out of the states than they receive back?
What is clear is that countries'--and the Eurozone's--insistence on making overleveraged European banks whole through sovereign indebtedness is having unintended consequences. One might have contemplated austerity as a first-line response by financial elites used to having others bear the pain of downturns, and some social unrest as a result. However, Spain appears to be facing amputation. One can easily then imagine that Spanish debt would be almost impossible to sell in the bond markets, making the lives of other Spaniards that much more miserable. If Catalonia truly does split from the rest of Spain, perhaps Europeans as a whole will start to realize that banks are easier to sacrifice than countries.