The road to independence: understanding the Catalan conflict

What is Catalonia?

Catalunya, or Catalonia, is a nation, home to the Catalans. It is currently an autonomous community under the Kingdom of Spain. Home to 7.5 million people, and with a GDP of 204 billion Euros, it is comparable in size to European countries such as Finland or Denmark.

Over the last few years the Catalan independence movement has grown strong, not only in the streets where pacific pro-independence demonstrations have reached two million people for several years, but also in the institutions where a 62% independentist majority has been the driving force of the institutional push for independence.

In this article, I will try to set a foundation for understanding the power dynamics that started the conflict, so one can follow the current discussions, as well as giving some inside perspective on how the last few weeks have developed.

No economics in the title

The Catalonian Referendum and the Struggle of Democracy

No one putting a foot in Barcelona can get away from Catalan culture. No one can skip the “calçots -with their sauce, please-”, la “sardana”, the “Castells” and the many other things that differentiate Catalonia from the rest of Spain. Yet, no one that goes to Galicia could miss Galician, or miss a “Queimada”. No one going to Andalusia could miss the different accent, nor the “feria de Abril”, or the “migas de la alpujarra.” Evidently there is no such thing as a homogeneous Spanish culture. As Pedro Sánchez, the leader of the opposition, said just a few weeks ago, it is a “nation of nations.” Though this might be disputed by many, no one can deny that Spain is formed by regions, or autonomous communities, as is stated in the constitution. These regions have their own voice in education and public health, some even have their own regional police (Mossos or the ertzaintza) and many have substantial control over tax revenues. Yet these regional powers are not universal and vary considerably. Certainly, there are a number of regions that match the Oxford Dictionary definition of nationhood: “A large body of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular state or territory.” No one that knows about the Iberian history could rightfully deny this, though of course some of them will.

No economics in the title

Are indigenous people’s livelihoods and conservation compatible?

In the early 1960’s, many environmental protection NGOs started to promote conservation of ecosystems all over the globe. Greenpeace’s first stated mission is to “protect biodiversity in all its forms”. For WWF its principal objective is to “conserve nature and reduce the most pressing threats to the diversity of life on Earth.” Conservation and climate change have become an important part of the international discussion.


The Biology of Our Political Beliefs

Have you ever wondered what is wrong with people who have political views so different from yours? Have you ever experienced frustration in discussing politics with friends who seem to stick to their ideology, irrespective of the evidence you might bring into the discussion? You are not alone, I guess, and you might find some interesting answers in a new prolific line of work in political science that connects political orientations to biological predispositions. A bunch of academics have indeed started tackling with some serious and scientific effort the question we always end up asking ourselves when we deplorably decide to talk politics with some people: what’s their problem?! In particular, this research tries to understand how genetic and biological components might be interacting with environmental factors in shaping our political beliefs. I was exposed to some of this research in a fascinating IAST (Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse) seminar held two years ago by Professor John Hibbing from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, I will present some of the main experiments and results.

No economics in the title