Although Madrid has denounced Sunday’s planned Catalan independence vote as "illegal,” residents of Spain’s wealthy northeastern region – both Catalans and newcomers alike – are speaking out on their country’s future.
Many Catalans are hopeful of creating Europe’s newest state despite determined opposition from the central Spanish government, according to Cevdet Oz, a 32-year old chef from Turkey who now lives in Barcelona.
When the Catalan parliament approved a Scottish-style independence vote on Sept.19, the Spanish government appealed to the country’s Constitutional Court.
Earlier this week the court agreed to hear Madrid’s objections to a now-symbolic Catalan vote planned for Nov.9. Nationalist leaders in the region have vowed to continue with the poll, despite the legal setback.
With their own language and culture, Catalonia – as an official ‘autonomous community’ – already has limited self-rule within Spain. It controls its own education and healthcare systems, as well as having its own police force.
Separatist leaders still enjoy the support of a large section of the Catalan electorate which has been campaigning for full independence on the streets for months.
Earlier in September hundreds of thousands of Catalans came together in two main streets in Barcelona, forming a human ‘V’ [for ‘votar’] and calling for the right to stage a referendum.
Economics are fuelling a lot of this nationalist sentiment claims Oz, who has been living in Barcelona for the last five years: "Most of them believe the central government in Madrid taxes Catalonia more than rest of the country.”
Catalans believe that they work more than rest of the Spain and pay more tax than other regions, according to Oz.
"If you notice, Catalans have a donkey symbol on the back of their cars which means they are the hard-workers of Spain,” he says.
Around 7.5 million of Spain’s 47-million strong population live in Catalonia and they account for 20 percent of the output from Europe’s fifth largest-economy.
As the region is an important base for Spanish tax revenues, losing Catalonia would signal the start of another economic struggle for Madrid – already reeling from the effects of the global financial crisis.
Oz believes that independence would affect immigrants in the country like himself although he is not clear exactly how.
"I haven’t heard if they have any policy on immigrants who live in Catalonia,” he says.
When asked if a rejection like in Scotland might occur in Catalonia, Oz says: "They might reject it because more people than just those who are campaigning for independence are at home and silent.”
A Catalan police officer, who did not give his name, told Anadolu Agency that: "Catalonia should be independent.”
"It is not only money, it is a feeling,” he says.
Unlike Oz, the officer thinks that – as opposed to Scotland – most people would vote ‘yes’ in a referendum.
"I don’t mind staying in the EU or not after independence. We are strong, we can handle any situation,” he says.
The desire for greater autonomy is also present in another region of the Spanish state: the Basque Country in the north. A four-decade armed campaign for Basque independence cost more than 800 lives.
When asked about the Basque question, the policeman says: "We will do this first and then Basques will do it second maybe. But they are not as willing as we are here."
"‘Yes’ votes here are maybe 75 percent but in the Basque country maybe fifty-fifty.”
Cesar Patino, 38, is a street artist from Bolivia and has been living in Barcelona since 2001. Patino believes Catalans should have the right to vote on independence.
"Apart from what they decide, they just want to vote. That’s the most important thing,” he says.
"This is the feeling of around 300 years. That feeling you cannot change.
"They think they are different and they are,” he says.
As an immigrant, Patino has many questions about independence: "People talk about independence but they are not very clear. Actually I don’t have a preference as to whether it will be better or not. They don’t explain it very well.”
Luis Angel, 65, is from Aragon, another autonomous community in northeastern Spain. Angel says that although many Catalans want to be independent, Spanish politicians will not allow them to have a referendum.
One independence campaigner, Eduard Zanuy, 51, says: "First of all we are a different nation with a culture, language and history of centuries."
"Now it is not possible combine with Spain or stay within Spain. I think independence is the only way out to maintain our culture, institutions and language.”
Although Nov. 9 may see a symbolic ‘yes’ vote, it seems that legal roadblocks will only stall talk of Catalan independence and ensure that the issue remains on the front burner.
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