On October 1st, 2017 Catalonia, Spain held a referendum vote. With ballots containing the question “Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?”, Catalonians were supposed to participate in a free and democratic exercise to self-determine their political future. However, less than a month before the election took place, the referendum was declared illegal by the central government and it led to a major political crisis for Catalonia and Spain. On the actual day that the voting took place, irregularities and excessive use of force were widely reported leading international observers to declare that the referendum failed to meet the minimum international standards.
In the presentation given by Prof. Llera Llorente, she overviewed the results of her recent research on the topic. She presented an analysis of the social and political issues that prevailed in the preceding years to the referendum which slowly but surely built up an independentist sentiment. As it is the case with most politically tainted situations, there is no clear black and white picture. A comprehensive summary of events and detailed interpretations were offered to allow those in attendance to better comprehend the complexity of the events.
The unfortunate incidents during the Catalonia independence referendum were extensively covered by the international media, with flooding scenes of police brutality and repression of peaceful demonstrators putting the central government in a very awkward position. In her explanation, Prof. Llera Llorente delivered a more in-depth analysis of the violent incidents and painted a broader picture of the underlying situation.
However, she clarified that in the end the rule of law prevailed and the principles of democracy and freedom of speech were upheld. As an example, she mentioned that in the most recent elections, all of the pro-independence parties were allowed to legally participate and many of their candidates were elected for important offices.
The last part of her conference focused on highlighting the similarities and differences between the cases of Taiwan and Catalonia. She mentioned that while some parallels can be found, Catalonia’s historical conditions are deeply different and a fair comparison cannot be made to Taiwan or Hong Kong.
Before finishing her talk, a lively Q&A session was filled with questions by the students in attendance. Prof. Llera Llorente diligently addressed all the points raised, thus concluding a very entertaining and informative conference.