BusinessDay Johannesburg – Recession stirs Catalan separatist fervour and breakaway vote

Three weeks after a massive Catalan separatist march in Barcelona — the biggest since the 1970s— the independence flags still flutter from balconies across Spain’s second-largest city.

Spain’s crushing recession has had this divisive result: soaring popular sentiment in Catalonia that the affluent region would be better off as a separate nation.

Last Thursday, regional legislators voted to hold a referendum for Catalonia’s 7-million citizens to decide whether they want to break away from Spain. The Spanish government says the referendum would be unconstitutional. And it is unclear if the “yes” vote would win — even in these restless times. But it looks more likely that Catalonia may ask to go its own way.

Catalonia, a northeastern region that is historically one of Spain’s wealthiest and most industrialised, has always harboured a strong nationalist streak. Separatism is especially entrenched in the rural towns and villages outside its more cosmopolitan capital, Barcelona, where people switch between speaking Spanish and Catalan with ease and at times without even noticing.

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