In the last few months, the Catalonia region of Spain has been thrown into turmoil over a contentious referendum to declare independence.

After the president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, signed a declaration of Catalan independence on Oct. 10, the Spanish government quickly triggered Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution and dismissed Catalan leaders to take over control of Catalonia.

The history of this conflict stretches back centuries. Catalonia, which borders France via the Pyrenees Mountains, has a unique language and cultural history from central Spain. However,  generations of centralizing efforts starting in the Medieval era led to its integration into a united Spain.

The 36 year fascist dictatorship under Francisco Franco (1939-1975) violently enforced Catalan homogeneity with the rest of Spain by suppressing expressions of Catalan identity. The scars of this time are still healing, even after decades of autonomous government.

Catalonia is highly industrialized and comprises the largest percentage of Spain’s gross domestic product, which some say means it should not be forced to prop up the rest of Spain and could survive as an independent country. However, there is also debate over how many people actually want to separate—both sides have made claims that the other side is changing numbers.

This situation is worrisome because it indicates ways in which policies in an apparently democratic government can be twisted to suppress the voices of citizens. With everything that’s been contentious in American politics in the last year, I think it’s important that we keep an eye on what’s going on elsewhere. Although there are very different contexts, Spain’s political climate is shifting in ways that are indicative of wider problems.

The unrest in Catalonia is a small but relevant reminder that participating in government and maintaining rights is critical. There’s no easy answer in Spain or the United States, but the most important thing is to make sure your voice is heard. ◼︎

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