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How Catalonia’s Independence Efforts Raise Tensions in Belgium


Demonstrators holding banners that read in Catalan: "Freedom for the Political Prisoners," are seen during a protest against the decision of a judge to jail ex-members of the Catalan government, at University square in Barcelona, Spain, Nov. 5, 2017.

Catalonia’s effort to separate from Spain became more complex Sunday when the former president of the region, Carles Puigdemont, surrendered to police in Belgium. Puigdemont had fled to Brussels from Spain last week.

Spain ordered the arrest of Puigdemont and other Catalan leaders. They are accused of rebellion.

As Madrid seeks to stop the drive toward Catalan independence, similar movements, such as in Scotland, are watching with interest.

On the streets of Scotland’s biggest cities, Edinburgh and Glasgow, the Scottish flag has flown alongside the Catalan flag to show support for the separatists.

Sonja Coquelin, a French student, joined the protests in Edinburgh last month.

"Whether it’s the Basque Country, Catalonia, Scotland, and then going elsewhere to Palestine, to Kurdistan, they all have the right to exist as nations,” she said.

Scotland already enjoys some autonomy from Britain. The British government approved Scotland’s plan to hold an independence vote in 2014. The Scottish people chose to remain part of Britain.

Scottish independence supporter Chris Bambery is the writer of the new book, Catalonia Reborn. He said Spain’s government should have treated Catalonia the way Britain treated Scotland.

Bamberry said the Spanish Prime Minister may have been able to dissuade Catalans from seeking independence had he been more respectful of them. He said the government acted too strongly. That angered Catalans and intensified their support for independence.

James Ker-Lindsay, a professor at St Mary’s University in London, agrees.

“If Scotland had voted for independence, we know that Britain would have allowed it...But Spain said absolutely no way, we’re not even going to give that vote," he said.

And, he said, the international community supported Spain’s government because it did not want to deal with European problems.

Independence movements are taking place elsewhere in Europe. Italy, for example, saw two of its richest areas vote last month for more autonomy from Rome.

In Belgium, tensions between the Flemish-speaking north and French-speaking south also may threaten the country.

Ker-Lindsay said that other movements are troubled by events in Spain. The violence following the vote, and the reaction of the international community, demonstrate the difficulty in gaining independence.

The European Union supported the Spanish government. However, Chris Bambery argues, history shows it is better to be sympathetic to people who seek independence.

He said, “The EU can look back in 1989 and say when the Soviet Union collapsed, actually the Baltic states and other countries got their independence peacefully.”

Both Catalonia and Scotland are wrong to believe the EU will help them become independent, argues Ker-Lindsay. He said the EU does not have the power to decide questions of independence.

Ker-Lindsay added that the EU is already worried about the British decision to leave the EU, and the migrant crisis.

E.U. worries may grow: The Scottish National Party is proposing to hold another independence vote after Britain leaves the EU. If it succeeds, it may inspire the Catalans to fight harder to separate.

I’m Jill Robbins.

And I'm Susan Shand.

Reporter Henry Ridgwell wrote this story for VOANews. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in This Story

autonomy n. the power or right of a country, group, etc., to govern itself

allow v. permit

absolutely adv. completely or totally

inspire v. to cause someone to have a feeling or emotion

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