The Spirit

Catalonia Independence Movement – interview with Tomas Turriff-Ortega

Jacob Gillis, Lead News Editor

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Nationalist fervor in the Spanish territory of Cataloñia is a topic that has received substantial coverage by the media.  On October 1, 2017, in a highly controversial referendum, Cataloñian voters overwhelmingly voted for independence.  However, the Spanish government responded by emphasizing that the Supreme Court of Spain has ruled the referendum illegal with a voter turnout of only 43%.  In response to the referendum, the regional Parliament of Catalonia, led by pro-independence political parties, unilaterally declared independence from Spain.  To preserve the unity of Spain, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy dissolved the Parliament of Catalonia, triggering fresh elections in December, and announced direct rule over the province.  Thomas Turriff-Ortega ‘18, who lived in Barcelona during middle school, answered some questions about his experience in the Spanish territory and thoughts on the independence movement.
    Thomas said that he enjoyed his experience in Barcelona, but also added that life is significantly different there than in the United States.  Some differences included the greater importance of extended family and a less materialistic culture.  While he said that Cataloñian independence was an important political issue when he was there, he said it was not as divisive as it is today.  It was particularly controversial on the city’s soccer team, Futbol Club Barcelona, with players expressing both nationalist and unionist views.
    The world has seen separatist movements and referendums in the past, such as in Scotland and the Canadian province of Quebec.  Thomas, however believed that these independence movements were different because these regions had a more legitimate claim to independence. He cited important historical differences in how these conflicts developed to imply that there was less cultural division between Spain and Cataloñia than initially perceived.
    Despite the substantial margin of victory achieved by Catalan nationalists in the referendum, he viewed the result with great skepticism.  He said that a referendum cannot be legitimate if only 43% of citizens voted, suggesting that a much different result would be likely, if more people voted.  That being said, he was rather critical of the government’s reaction, including aiding polling booths and police brutality against peaceful protesters.  He doesn’t view the police’s actions as justified because their job is to protect Spanish citizens, irrespective of political views. With regret, he concluded that Madrid’s reaction increased the strength of the pro-independence movement after people saw the gruesome footage of violence initiated by the government.
    Thomas said that he opposed Catalan independence because it isn’t based in historical precedent, citing that claims of being “conquered peoples” have repeatedly been debunked.  Prior to the independence vote, he said that the Spanish government has given the region a substantial level of autonomy.  Furthermore, he supported his opinion by bringing up the region’s difficulty of entering the European Union, since it requires the agreement of all member-states.  Not being a member of the EU could be economically taxing for the region, considering the trade benefits that come with the supranational organization.
     Thomas Turriff-Ortega is also a Saint Ignatius Model United Nations Executive Board and plays on the soccer team.  He still has family in Catalonia who was an important part of his life.  Please email or contact Thomas if you have any other questions.

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Catalonia Independence Movement – interview with Tomas Turriff-Ortega