Catalan Sovereignty in Practice: Referendum as resistance and the right to decide

PRIO Paper

Alcalde, Javier & Pablo Aguiar (2017) Catalan Sovereignty in Practice: Referendum as resistance and the right to decide. PRIO Paper. Oslo: PRIO.

In the past few years, opinion polls in Catalonia have shown a dramatic increase in the number of people who favor the independence of Catalonia from Spain. As of November 2014, almost four out of five Catalans expressed support for organizing a referendum on Catalan self-determination, as did a large number of non-governmental organizations in Catalonia.

This paper discusses how sovereignty is asserted, contested, and disputed in Catalonia, and what happened on 9 November 2014, when more than two million citizens went to the polls to vote on the independence of Catalonia in a referendum deemed illegal by the Spanish authorities.

When the Spanish government denied the Catalans the opportunity to organise a legal referendum, a majority of Catalans decided to defy the authorities of Spain and exercise what they viewed as their 'right to decide'.

The exact turnout to the referendum could not be established, but according to figures provided by the Catalan government 2,305,290 votes were cast on the day of the referendum, of which 80.8% were in support of an independent Catalan state.

As argued here, the 2014 Catalan referendum was a performance of simulated sovereignty, as confirmed by subsequent events in which Spanish courts exercised their real sovereignty by taking legal action against the Catalan President Artur Mas and two counsellors for organizing the referendum.

Regardless of the legal or political consequences, a 'real' referendum is scheduled for September 2017. The Spanish Government, on its part, has announced that it is open to negotiate on any issue, except the organization of a referendum.

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