Catalans are ready for independence – but are their leaders?

Despite some politicians trying to claim the contrary, Tuesday’s million-and-a-half-strong demonstration in Barcelona was a mass call for the independence of Catalonia. The obvious explanation for the high turnout is the devastating impact of Spain’s economic crisis, which in the last year saw a further 800,000 added to the jobless. This has been accompanied by a political crisis exemplified by the “indignados” protests, in which one in four Spaniards participated.

If you look at the history of modern Catalan nationalism, crises like the current one have actually played a significant role. After Spain lost its last colonies in Cuba and the Philippines in the “great disaster” of 1898, the political backwardness and uneven economic development of an erstwhile global empire was laid bare. During the subsequent period of soul-searching, industrialists in the most developed region, Catalonia, fought for political autonomy to help modernise Spain (an idea given cultural expression in the modernist architecture of Gaudí, funded by those same industrialists).

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