The beginnings of separatism in Catalonia can be traced back to the mid–19th century. The Renaixença (cultural renaissance), which aimed at the revival of the Catalan language and Catalan traditions, led to the development of Catalan nationalism and a desire for independence. Between the 1850s and the 1910s, some individuals, organisations  and political parties started demanding full independence of Catalonia from Spain.

The first pro-independence political party in Catalonia was Estat Català (Catalan State), founded in 1922 by Francesc Macia. Estat Català went into exile in France during the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera (1923–1930), launching an unsuccessful uprising from Prats de Mollo in 1926. In March 1931, following the overthrow of Primo de Rivera, Estat Català joined with the Partit Republicà Català (Catalan Republican Party) and the political group L'Opinió (Opinion) to form Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Republican Left of Catalonia; ERC), with Macià as its first leader. The following month, the ERC achieved a spectacular victory in the municipal elections that preceded the 14 April proclamation of the Second Spanish Republic  Macià proclaimed a Catalan Republic on 14 April, but after negotiations with the provisional government he was obliged to settle for autonomy, under a revived Generalitat of Catalonia . Catalonia was granted a statute of autonomy in 1932, which lasted until the Spanish War . In 1938, General Franco abolished both the Statute of Autonomy and the Generalitat

A section of Esta Català which had broken away from the ERC in 1936 joined with other groups to found the Front Nacional de Catalunya (National Front of Catalonia; FNC) in Paris in 1940. The FNC declared its aim to be "an energetic protest against Franco and an affirmation of Catalan nationalism". Its impact, however, was on Catalan exiles in France rather than in Catalonia itself. The FNC in turn gave rise to the Partit Socialista d'Alliberament Nacional (Socialist Party of National Liberation; PSAN), which combined a pro-independence agenda with a left-wing stance. A split in the PSAN led to the formation of the Partit Socialista d'Alliberament Nacional- Provisional (Socialist Party of National Liberation - Provisional; PSAN-P) in 1974.

Following Franco's death in 1975, Spain moved to restore democracy. A new constitution was adopted in 1978, which asserted the "indivisible unity of the Spanish Nation", but acknowledged "the right to autonomy of the nationalities and regions which form it". Independence parties objected to it on the basis that it was incompatible with Catalan self-determination, and formed the Comité Català Contra la Constitució Espanyola (Catalan Committee Against the Constitution) to oppose it. The constitution was approved in a referendum by 88% of voters in Spain overall, and just over 90% in Catalonia. It was followed by the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia of 1979, which was approved in a referendum, with 88% of voters supporting it. This led to the marginalisation or disappearance of pro-independence political groups, and for a time the gap was filled by militant groups such as Terra Lliure .

In 1981, a manifesto issued by intellectuals in Catalonia claiming discrimination against the Castilian language drew a response in the form of published letter, Crida a la Solidaritat en Defensa de la Llengua, la Cultura i la Nació Catalanes (Call for solidarity in defence of the Catalan language, culture and nation), which called for a mass meeting at the University of Barcelona , out of which a popular movement arose. The Crida organised a series of protests that culminated in a massive demonstration in the Camp Nou on 24 June 1981. Beginning as a cultural organisation, the Crida soon began to demand independence. In 1982, at a time of political uncertainty in Spain, the Ley Orgánica de Armonización del Proceso Autonómico (LOAPA) was introduced in the Spanish parliament, supposedly to "harmonise" the autonomy process, but in reality to curb the power of Catalonia and the Basque region. There was a surge of popular protest against it. The Crida and others organised a huge rally against LOAPA in Barcelona on 14 March 1982. In March 1983, it was held to be ultra vires by the Spanish Constitutional Court. During the 1980s, the Crida was involved in nonviolent direct action , among other things campaigning for labelling in Catalan only, and targeting big companies. In 1983, the Crida's leader, Àngel Colom, left to join the ERC, "giving an impulse to the independentist refounding" of that party.

Following elections in 2003 , the moderate nationalist Convergencia i Unio (CiU), which had governed Catalonia since 1980, lost power to a coalition of left-wing parties composed of the Socialists' Party of Catalonia (PSC), the pro-independence Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) and a far-left/Green coalition (ICV-EUiA), headed by Pasqual Maragall . The government produced a draft for a new Statute of Autonomy , which was supported by the CiU and was approved by the parliament by a large majority. The draft statute then had to be approved by the Spanish parliament, which could make changes; it did so, removing clauses on finance and the language, and an article stating that Catalonia was a nation. When the amended statute was put to a referendum on 18 June 2006, the ERC, in protest, called for a "no" vote. The statute was approved, but turnout was only 48.9%. At the subsequent election, the left-wing coalition was returned to power, this time under the leadership of  José Montilla.

The Partido Popular , which had opposed the statute in the Spanish parliament, challenged its constitutionality in the Spanish High Court of Justice. The case lasted four years. In its judgement, issued on 18 June 2010, the court ruled that fourteen articles in the statute were unconstitutional, and that 27 others were to be interpreted restrictively. The affected articles included those that gave preference to the Catalan language, freed Catalonia from responsibility for the finances of other autonomous communities, and recognised Catalonia as a nation. The full text of the judgement was released on 9 July 2010, and the following day a protest demonstration organised by the cultural organisation Omnium Cultural was attended by over a million people, and led by José Montilla.

During and after the court case, a series of symbolic referendums on independence were held in municipalities throughout Catalonia. The first of these was in the town of Arenys de Munt on 13 September 2009. About 40% of eligible voters participated, of whom 96% voted for independence. In all, 552 towns held independence referendums between 2009 and 2011. These, together with demonstrations organised by Òmnium Cultural and the Assemblea Nacional Catalana (ANC), represented a "bottom-up" process by which society influenced the political movement for independence. At an institutional level, several municipalities of Catalonia came together to create the Association of Municipalities for Independence , an organisation officially established on 14 December 2011 in Vic  which brought local organisations together to further the national rights of Catalonia and promote its right to self-determination. The  demonstration of 11 September 2012 explicitly called on the Catalan government to begin the process of secession. Immediately after it,  Artur Mas, whose CiU had regained power in 2010, called a snap election for 25 November 2012, and the parliament resolved that a referendum on independence would be held in the life of the next legislature. Although the CiU lost seats to the ERC, Mas remained in power.

Mas and ERC leader Oriol Junqueras signed an agreement by which the ERC would support the CiU on sovereignty issues while on other matters it might oppose it. The two leaders drafted the Declaration of Sovereignty and the Right to Decide of the Catalan People, which was adopted by the parliament at its first sitting in January 2013. The declaration stated that "the Catalan people have, for reasons of democratic legitimacy, the nature of a sovereign political and legal subject", and that the people had the right to decide their own political future. The Spanish government referred the declaration to the Spanish Constitutional Court , which ruled in March 2014 that the declaration of sovereignty was unconstitutional; it did, however, allow that there existed a right to decide. On 11 September 2013, an estimated 1.6 million demonstrators formed a human chain, the Catalan Way , from the French border to the regional border with Valencia. The following month, the CiU, the ERC, the ICV-EUiA and Candidatura d'Unitat Popular (CUP) agreed to hold the independence referendum on 9 November 2014, and that it would ask two questions: "Do you want Catalonia to become a State?" and (if yes) "Do you want this State to be independent?". A further mass demonstration, the Catalan Way 2014 , took place on 11 September 2014, when protesters wearing the Catalan colours of yellow and red filled two of Barcelona’s avenues to form a giant "V", to call for a vote. Following the Constitutional Court’s ruling, the Catalan government changed the vote to a "process of citizen participation" and announced that it would be supervised by volunteers. The Spanish government again appealed to the Constitutional Court, which suspended the process pending the appeal, but the vote went ahead. The result was an 81% vote for yes-yes, but the turnout was only 42%, which could be seen as a majority opposed to both independence and the referendum. Criminal charges were subsequently preferred against Mas and others for defying the court order.

.In June 2015 the CiU broke up as a result of disagreement between its constituent parties – Convergencia Democratica de Catalunya (CDC) and Unio Democratica de Catalunya (UDC) – over the independence process. Mas’s CDC joined with the ERC and other groups to form Junts pel Si (Together for "Yes"), which announced that it would declare independence if it won the election scheduled for September. In the September election , Junts pel Sí and the CUP between them won a majority of seats, but fell short of a majority of votes, with just under 48%. On 9 November 2015, the parliament passed a resolution declaring the start of the independent process , proposed by Junts pel Sí and the CUP. In response, Spanish premier Mariano Rajoy said that the state might "use any available judicial and political mechanism contained in the constitution and in the laws to defend the sovereignty of the Spanish people and of the general interest of Spain", a hint that he would not stop at military intervention. Following prolonged negotiations between Junts pel Sí and the CUP, Mas was replaced as president by Carles Puigdemont in January 2016. Puigdemont, on taking the oath of office, omitted the oath of loyalty to the king and the Spanish constitution, the first Catalan president to do so.

Further pro-independence demonstrations took place in Barcelona in September 2015 and in Barcelona, Berga, Lleida, Salt and Tarragona in September 2016..

In late September 2016, Puigdemont told the parliament that a binding referendum of independence would be held in the second half of September 2017, with or without the consent of the Spanish institutions. Puigdemont announced in June 2017 that the referendum would take place on 1 October, and that the question would be, "Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?" The Spanish government said in response, "that referendum will not take place because it is illegal. The national government seized ballot papers and cell phones, threatened to fine voters up to €300,000, shut down web sites, and demanded that Google remove a voting location finder from the Android app store. Police were sent from the rest of Spain to suppress the vote and close polling locations, but parents scheduled events at schools (where polling places are located) over the weekend and vowed to occupy them to keep them open during the vote. Some election organizers were arrested, including Catalan cabinet officials, while demonstrations by local institutions and street protests grew larger.

The referendum was approved by the Catalan parliament in a session on 6 September 2017 along with a law which states that independence would be binding with a simple majority, without requiring a minimum turnout. Opposition parties refused to participate in the session and called on their voters to boycott the vote, except Catalunya Si que es Pot who abstained but supports participation. The law is illegal according to the Catalan Statutes of Autonomy which require a two third majority in the Catalan parliament for any change to Catalonia's status. The referendum itself is also illegal according to the Spanish constitution. It was suspended by the Constitutional Court on 7 September 2017, with the Catalan government stating the court order was not valid for Catalonia and proceeding to gather the support of 712 of 948 municipalities of Catalonia, including a partial support by Barcelona.

The referendum question, which voters answered with "Yes" or "No", was "Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?". The "Yes" side won, with 2,020,144 (91.96%) voting for independence and 176,565 (8.04%) voting against, on a turnout of 42.58%. The Catalan government estimated that up to 770,000 votes were not cast due to polling stations being closed off during the police crackdown, although the "universal census" system introduced earlier in the day allowed electors to vote in any given polling station. Catalan government officials have argued that the turnout would be higher were it not for Spanish police suppression of the vote, and that were it not for closures and police pressure, turnout could have been around 55%. On the other hand, many voters who did not support Catalan independence did not turn out.

The Government of Spain opposes any Catalan self-determination referendum, because the Spanish Constitution does not allow for a vote on the independence of any Spanish region while also deeming it illegal without its consent. This interpretation is also favoured by the Catalan Statutory Guarantees Council. However, the Catalan government invoked the right to self-determination for calling the referendum. Following a constitutionality check demanded by the Spanish government, the Constitutional Court of Spain annulled the resolution emanated by the Parliament of Catalonia to hold such a vote. The Government of Catalonia, though, maintained that the vote would still be held on 1 October. To avoid the Spanish government's influence, the Catalan government passed a referendum law through its own parliament, by simple majority, in September declaring that it would then follow a "Catalan-only" legality (as opposed to the general Spanish one). The referendum law was also suspended by the Constitutional Court of Spain.

On the day of the poll, Spanish police and the Guardia Civil raided polling stations in Barcelona, Girona and elsewhere. They forced entry, ejected the occupants, confronted people trying to vote, used batons and fired rubber bullets in an attempt to stop the referendum from going ahead. The Catalan government gave preliminary figures indicating that 2.26 million (42% of the electorate) had voted, with 90% vote in favour of independence. The Spanish constitutional court moved quickly to prevent a declaration of independence.

Key Dates

  1. Mars 2006 : la Catalogne obtient une une plus grande autonomie : En 2006, le Parlement espagnol adopte un nouveau statut, renforçant l'autonomie de la Catalogne définie comme une "nation" à l'intérieur de l'État espagnol.
  2. Juin 2010 : rétropédalage partiel sur le statut d’autonomie : La Cour constitutionnelle annule en juin 2010 une partie du statut de la Catalogne, concluant que la référence à une "nation" n'a "aucune valeur juridique". Elle rejette l'usage du catalan comme langue "préférentielle" dans les administrations et les médias.
  3. 2012 : montée en puissance des séparatistes : Le 11 septembre 2012, jour de la fête de la Catalogne, plus d'un million de personnes manifestent à Barcelone pour un nouvel État. Neuf jours plus tard, le 20 septembre, Mariano Rajoy, Premier ministre depuis 2011, refuse de négocier avec Artur Mas, le président catalan, une plus grande autonomie budgétaire de la région. Mas remporte en novembre les élections régionales et promet un référendum d'autodétermination.
  4. 2014 : premier référendum sur la question de l’indépendance : Le 9 novembre 2014, la Catalogne se prononce à 80 % pour l'indépendance lors d'une consultation symbolique, déclarée anticonstitutionnelle, avec une participation de 35 %.
  5. 2015/2016 : une majorité indépendantiste au Parlement catalan : Le 27 septembre 2015, les partis indépendantistes obtiennent la majorité des sièges au Parlement régional. Les indépendantistes adoptent donc le 9 novembre une résolution sur un processus devant aboutir à "un État catalan indépendant prenant la forme d'une république", au plus tard en 2017. La Cour constitutionnelle annule cette résolution. Le 10 janvier 2016, le séparatiste Carles Puigdemont devient néanmoins président de la région grâce à une singulière alliance entre la coalition modérée "Ensemble pour le oui" (Junts pel Sí) et le parti de gauche radicale Candidature d'unité populaire (Candidatura d'Unitat Popular).
  6. 2017 : le référendum interdit:  En juin, Carles Puigdemont annonce un référendum d'autodétermination le 1er octobre, assurant que si le oui l'emporte, la région amorcera la "déconnexion" d'avec l'Espagne. Madrid assure que le référendum n'aura pas lieu. Le 7 septembre, la Cour constitutionnelle suspend une loi du Parlement régional organisant la consultation. Le 20, l'arrestation de 14 hauts responsables catalans et la saisie de millions de bulletins de vote déclenchent des manifestations spontanées de milliers de Catalans. Le 30, le gouvernement affirme avoir démantelé l'organisation du référendum. Le 1er octobre, le référendum a bien lieu mais les forces de l'ordre interviennent pour saisir les urnes dans au moins une centaine de bureaux de vote. Les images des violences policières font le tour du monde, mettant à mal le gouvernement de Mariano Rajoy pour qui, pourtant, "il n'y a pas eu de référendum d'autodétermination en Catalogne". Les autorités catalanes affirment, elles, que le oui l’a emporté à 90%, avec une participation de 42,3 % selon des résultats partiels. Le 3 octobre, 700 000 personnes, selon la police municipale, manifestent à Barcelona contre les violences policières, sur fond de grève générale en Catalogne. Le roi Felipe VI dénonce avec fermeté les autorités séparatistes. Le lendemain, Carles Puigdemont assure que son gouvernement s’apprête à déclarer l’indépendance de la Catalogne probablement "à la fin de la semaine, ou au début de la semaine prochaine".



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