Catalonia and Kurdistan's contrasting independence referendums

Catalonia and Kurdistan's contrasting independence referendums
Blog: Iraqi Kurdistan and Catalonia both held popular independence referendums in recent weeks, but the implications of each remain very different, writes Habibulah Mohamed Lamin.
3 min read
After Kurdistan's poll, Catalonia is the latest breakaway region aiming for independence - despite Spain's repeated threats it would use all means possible to keep the region under Madrid's control.

But unlike Kurdistan's relatively smooth-running referendum, the October 1 poll in 
Catalonia sparked one of Spain's most critical political crises in decades.

The defiant impasse between the Spanish central government in Madrid and its 
rival in Barcelona has resulted in a political classico, where each is continuing to blame the other to score rhetorical points in the debate.

While the Spanish prime minister has repeatedly said the 
referendum is "illegal" under Spanish law, Catalonia's Generalitat leader, Carles Puigdemont, argues that the autonomous region's parliamentary vote in favour of a referendum provided a legal democratic process for voters to cast ballots all over Catalonia.

While such back-and-forth statements were also a hallmark of the clash between Baghdad and 
Erbil over the Kurdish referendum, the Spanish government reacted to polling day with force.

Mariano Rajoy's government sent its National and Guardia Civil forces to disrupt
the referendum. Pictures and videos of Spanish police violently attacking voters and dispersing peaceful demonstrations ignited Catalan streets.

The Catalan government reported that 880 people were injured during violent 
police intervention against peaceful protesters.

The recent events opened old wounds. It reminded many here
of the Franco era, when Catalan symbols were prohibited and they were forced to give Spanish names to their children.

Two days after the referendum, a general strike 
was held in Barcelona, Catalonia's capital, to denounce the police violence. Shops were closed, the subway service was reduced to 25 percent, and Guardia civil personnel were forced out of hotels.
Catalan tax revenues are essential to Spain's state budget. The region generates 20 percent of the country's economy, the fourth-largest economic power in the Eurozone

The Spanish king, Felipe VI, stepped in. But in saying Puigdemont was trying to break up "the unity of Spain", he did not make any detour 
from the line of his government in responding to the Catalan leader - who vowed to declare  independence the following week.

In the end, following 11th-hour negotiations, Puigdemont announced on Tuesday October 10 that he had a mandate to declare independence, but suggested independence be suspended to allow for talks with Madrid.

Rajoy responded bullishly, demanding clarification on whether or not he had formally declared independence. If he had, Madrid would revoke the autonomy granted Catalonia by the constitution. If he had not, their position remained unchanged. 

Catalonia's economic significance

Catalan tax revenues are essential to Spain's state budget. The region generates 20 percent of the country's economy, the fourth-largest economic power in the Eurozone.

This is at the centre of Madrid's insistence to keep the 
region under its control, yet Catalans argue the current arangements benefit the Spanish palace, rather than the people, and demand full control over their economy.

The EU remains on the side of the Spanish government. 
Spain is the EU's second most-visited country, providing some of its most important tourist destinations.

Last Monday, dozens gathered at Madrid's Puerta Del Sol to condemn the violence against Catalan protesters.

demonstrators were chanting: "Liberty without violence" and "Police, learn from firefighters" - after firefighters formed lines to protect civilian voters from baton-swinging police officer during the referendum. 

he riot police swiftly intervened to disperse the protesters.

Habibulah Mohamed Lamin is a journalist based in the Western Sahara refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria. He has worked as a translator and is director of Equipe Media Branch, a group of media activists covering Western Sahara. His work focuses on politics and culture of the Maghreb.

Follow him on Twitter: @