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Catalans Push Ahead On Independence Referendum


Catalonia is a region in Spain that has its own language, its own cuisine and unique culture. You may be familiar with its most famous city, Barcelona. It's also an economic powerhouse, providing one-fifth of Spain's economy. A week from now, its citizens, though, are going to the polls to vote on independence. If it secedes, it would have enormous implications not only for Spain but also for the increasingly fragile European Union.

The Spanish government has been trying to stop the referendum using arrests and repression. Catalans have responded by taking to the streets. The situation is tense. Anna Arque is a spokesperson for Catalan Countries in the International Commission of European Citizens. And she supports the referendum. She joins us via Skype from Barcelona. Welcome to the program.

ANNA ARQUE: Thank you very much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Secession is illegal under Spain's Constitution. And polls show that while a majority do want to vote, people are divided on whether there should actually be independence. So what's the point?

ARQUE: The point is that the referendum is not secession. The referendum is actually to decide whether the Catalan society wants or not independence. And there's not a better democratic tool than the referendums. And if the result is a victory for independence, then we will declare the Catalan Republic.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Could you just tell me exactly what are the reasons why you want to become independent from Spain? What are the actual grievances?

ARQUE: Catalans - what we want is all the laws that we approve in our Parliament to have an effect. For example, we approve a law against energetic poverty. So households - they don't need to be cut off of electricity if one month, you don't pay your bill. We approved that by absolute majority in our Parliament. And then Madrid says that that cannot be the case. So they put it as illegal.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How, actually, are people going to get to the ballot boxes...

ARQUE: (Laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...If Spain is taking away these ballot boxes. I mean, how, logistically, will that happen?

ARQUE: We are determined to be there. The polling stations have been already announced. We all know where we have to go to cast our vote. So it's going to be thousands and thousands of people outside the polling stations. So it will be the Spanish prerogative to decide - either he wants to keep on this outrageous madness way from the standing democracy, or either they come to terms, and they understand that they can't just not use violence, or they can't just not take away ballot boxes in a democracy. I mean, they have to decide what they are.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We've seen pictures of thousands of people taking to the streets of Barcelona. What is the scene there? Describe the mood.

ARQUE: There's this happiness of knowing - is a people that - we know who we are. We know our rights. And we are determined to vote and to exercise democracy. You can see it, for example, when you go to a restaurant, and you open the menu. Inside the menu, there's a paper that says, we will vote to be free. And you look at the waitress, and you see that she's smiling - and the owner of the restaurant. And you see this, like, complacency between - amongst all of us. We all share this understanding of democratic standards.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Anna Arque is a spokesperson for the Catalan Countries in the International Commission of European Citizens. The referendum is scheduled for October 1. She's speaking to us via Skype from Barcelona. Thank you so much.

ARQUE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.