People clashing with Spanish police officers outside a polling station during a referendum for independence in Barcelona on Oct 1. APF PIC

THERE was chaos in Spain when the Catalonian independence referendum took place on Oct 1.

Riot police clashed with voters. Barcelona football club locked thousands of fans out of Nou Camp Stadium while it played a league match against Las Palmas, as a sign of protest after its request to postpone it in view of the polls was rejected.

It seems Catalans have to pay a high price in their bid to break away, in damage to properties and human lives, and in curtailing economic activities.

The question is, why was the referendum important?

I was in Spain on vacation last summer. The trip began in Madrid, followed by Granada, Cordoba and ended in Barcelona. As a fan of FC Barcelona, I was interested in staying longer in La Rambla, a shopping district.

Indeed, the tour gave me a different view of Spain as a country and of Catalonia as a part of Spanish territory.

Barcelona is a modern and developed city, buzzing with business and tourist activities that generate economic prosperity.

Barcelona Port is thousands of years old, and is of great commercial importance in the Medi-terranean.

It is the reason why the city is one of the largest contributors to the Spanish economy.

The Catalan Parliament on Sept 6 approved the referendum on the secession of Catalonia, but the bid for independence is not a new development.

The Catalan struggle for independence started in the Middle Ages, when the area was conquered by Visigoths for almost 2½ centuries.

In 718, it came under Muslim control and became part of Al-Andalus, a province of the Umay-yad caliphate.

As the Al-Andalus empire fell, Catalonia became a part of the rising Aragon-Castile kingdom ruled by Queen Isabella I, a state that lasted until the 18th century.

Things worsened in the modern era, when under Francisco Franco’s rule in 1939, public activities associated with Catalan nationalism, including institutions of self-government and books, were banned.

This created the political rivalry that became known as El Clasico between Madrid, viewed as representing Franco’s nationalism, and Barcelona, viewed as representing Catalan independence. The rivalry is strong today, as witnessed in football matches between Barcelona and Real Madrid, and the call for independence is inevitable as Catalans believe they can finally be self-sustaining without the need for Spain.

But the call is not uncommon, if one counts the cases of Timor-Leste, South Sudan and even Singapore, all of which succeeded in their claims for independence. This begs another question, at least to football fans.

Should the Catalans achieve their aim, what would happen to FC Barcelona?

Will it be allowed to play in La Liga?

And if not, will the league remain competitive without it?

Ahmad Shahir Abdul Aziz

Post-graduate student, Universiti Sains Malaysia

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