A Country Divided: Catalonia's President on The Push For Independence

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Artur Mas waves to supporters during the closing rally ahead of the Catalan Elections, at the Palau Sant Jordi on November 23, 2012 in Barcelona, Spain.
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What would Spain be like without the northeastern region of Catalonia? The world may soon find out.

The leaders of the autonomous region, which includes the city of Barcelona, have announced that they will put in place a roadmap to secession, and independence, if victory is secured by independence parties in the upcoming regional elections in September.

They're facing considerable hostility from the rest of Spain, but the roots of Catalan independence run deep. While Catalonia shares many political and economic ties with Spain, it also has its own language, culture, and identity.

“My commitment is to hold a referendum on independence, and we’ll see if the majority of the Catalan people vote yes or no,” says Catalan President Artur Mas. “The country was born in the Middle Ages and we have a very deep sense of self government and we want to protect it for the future.”

President Mas says the people of Catalonia want independence in order to protect and develop the unique heritage of the region, which is home to about 7.5 million citizens.

“We also have a collective project to develop from the social, the economic, and the cultural points of view,” he says. “To carry out all of these, we need tools, the legal capacity to make decisions, and resources. This is something we have to build again. This is why we are seeking independence, or a new state for Catalonia integrated into the European Union and eurozone—we don’t want to be an isolated country.”

The Spanish government does not want Catalonia to secede and is working hard to gain support from its allies in the European Union to quash this independence movement. But that isn’t stopping President Mas.

“Spain says we are not allowed to hold a referendum on independence and that we are not allowed to build a new state in Catalonia,” he says. “But I think when things become real, then attitudes will change. We are already in the European Union, we belong to the eurozone, we use the Euro as our currency, and it is not easy for another European country to try to expel us out of the European Union. It’s a tactic game in a sense, but when the reality comes I’m sure they will change their attitude.”

President Mas joined The Takeaway in studio at its headquarters at WNYC Radio. While in New York City, President Mas sought meetings with investors and hedge funds in order to reassure economic stakeholders not to pull away from the region, despite Spain’s wishes to make things economically difficult for Catalonia.

“It’s going quite well,” says President Mas. “In the last quarter of 2014, foreign investments increased in Catalonia in comparison with what happened in the last quarter of the year before, in 2013. I’m absolutely convinced that Americans and Catalans share probably the same values—you struggled for democracy, freedom, and self determination. And we do too.”