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Catalan referendum drives tension In Spain

Tensions are rising between the Spanish government and the autonomous Catalonian region over the latter’s planned referendum on secession set for October 1. The options available to avert the imminent political crisis are narrowing, according to both parties. Catalonia’s administration has warned that either it holds a referendum or its parliament will ratify a unilateral declaration of independence. Both options will have far-reaching effects for the people of Spain and the future of Catalonia as an autonomous region. The Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, along with other high-level Catalan officials sent a letter to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and King Felipe VI to initiate a process of dialogue about the referendum. In the letter Puigdemont says "this referendum does not count on an agreement with the Spanish state". The Spanish government is totally opposed to both the referendum and the idea of secession, while polls indicate the majority of Catalonians support the idea of becoming a fully independent state. This is a move by Catalan officials to manoeuvre around another pushback from the Spanish Constitutional Court. The court in Madrid has frustrated recent Catalonian moves for independence on two occasions. First, the court struck off part of the 2006 autonomy statute where it said there is no legal basis for recognising Catalonia as a nation within Spain. In 2014, the court stood in the way of a referendum citing the need for the clarification of its constitutionality. The central government in Spain regards the moves by the Catalonian independence movement as illegal. On September 7, Rajoy gave instructions to the State Legal Counsel to appeal the Referendum Act voted on by the regional parliament of Catalonia. In a press briefing held to outline the government's response to the latest moves by the regional parliament, he said: "The whole series of illegal and arbitrary acts that took place there is the product of one single thing: the obstinacy of a few politicians in forcibly seeking to impose their breakaway plan on society." Although Spain is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the country is reluctant to give legitimacy to the Catalonian movement for secession and independence. The covenant took effect in 1976 and states that "all peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development." The Spanish state cites conflicts with it's 1978 federalist constitution as a reason for barring the Catalonia region from secession. Not being part of the United Nations' Non-Self-Governing Territories list weakens the secession movement considerably. The official position of the United Nations regarding Catalonia is consistent with that of the Spanish central government. In 2015, Ban Ki-moon, the former secretary-general of the international body, said: "Spain is an independent and sovereign country that includes the Catalan region. It is in this way that it was admitted to the UN and acts within the international community." The period after the world economic crisis has seen the rise of many secessionist movements across the world. In Europe alone there are an estimated 25 countries with secessionist movements that operate with varying degrees of success. Most notable among these is Scotland where a referendum is scheduled before the end of 2019. The Scottish parliament voted in favour of the upcoming 2019 referendum for independence from the United Kingdom. The last referendum held in 2014 failed by a margin of 55% to 45%.

The actions of central governments in the wake of the financial crisis has also inflamed secessionist sentiment in their respective countries. Austerity measures have increasingly been viewed as having a disproportionate effect on the regions that want to secede. In the case of Scotland, spending cuts by the UK government had an adverse effect on their healthcare and university tuition policies. Scotland offers free university and has banned payments for prescription medication. The 2011 ban on payments for prescription medicines by the Scottish government was viewed by many as an early sign of growing dissatisfaction with the fiscal policies of the British government. The tensions in fiscal tensions among the Spanish government and the Catalonian region have fanned the separatist fires. The region is relatively developed economically and is an important contributor to the central government's revenue. Unlike other regions like Basque, Catalonia does not enjoy the same levels of relative fiscal autonomy. This is part of why the central government has decided to appeal against certain rules contained in the Tax Code Law of Catalonia that seeks to set up its own treasury. The separatist movement in Catalonia brings back the spotlight to other similar regions across the world. Among these is the issue of Western Sahara which is currently under the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). Tensions between the Moroccan and the Prolisario Front continue to fester. Calm in the region is only fostered by a fragile 1991 cease-fire agreement that has seen breaches from both parties. Another thorny area in global politics is the future of the occupied Palestinian territories. Unlike Catalonia, Palestine was accorded Non-Member Observer State status by the United Nations General Assembly in 2012. Observer states can be involved in UN activities but are not allowed to vote. There are fears that granting independence to Catalonia will bolster other separatist movements who define themselves in ethnic terms. South Sudan, the world's newest country, was arguably partitioned along artificial ethnic lines comprising a largely Arabic North and an indigenous South. The ethnic Oromo of Ethiopia have been locked in secessionist conflict with the central government through the activities of the Oromo Liberation Front. Conflicts in the Oromia region where they reside have recently spilled over to the neighbouring Somali region. Somalis are an ethnic minority in Ethiopia, forming only 6.2% of the population. Ethnic minorities are especially vulnerable when conflict breaks out within countries. The international community has witnessed many heavy-handed state actions aimed at countering separatist movements. Pro-independence activities by Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar have led to ethnic cleansing by the state. Another area of concern among the international community is the impact the success of secessionist movements will have on geopolitics. A result in the tug-of-war between Spain and Catalonia could add new dynamics to the war in Ukraine between Kiev and the pro-Russian separatists.

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