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The 2017 Catalan independence referendum: an interplay between political elites and civil society

Ergan, Seren
This thesis explores the role of the Catalan political elites and the two most prominent Catalan civil society organizations, Assemblea Nacional Catalana – ANC (Catalan National Assembly) and Òmnium Cultural (All Cultural) on the transformation of the Catalan national movement that experienced a turning point in 2017 with an unofficial Catalan independence referendum. To that end, the historical background of the relations between Catalonia and Spain as well as the speeches of two Catalan presidents, Artur Mas and Carles Puigdemont are analysed by also looking at some of the relevant quantitative data which show the support for independence. This study argues that the speeches of the political elites had a significant impact on the shift of the Catalan national movement from a pro-autonomy stance to a pro-independence one. With the instrumentalisation of cultural/linguistic, economic and political/institutional arguments, the Catalan political elites led to the mobilization of the civil society thanks to the active role played by the above-mentioned civil society organizations. As a result of this active role, the Catalan independence referendum had serious consequences such as strict divisions in the Catalan society, suspension of the autonomy of Catalonia, and the imprisonment of the Catalan politicians and the leaders of the civil society organizations. Since the international actors were not in favour of the Catalan independence, the Catalan independence movement could not maintain its momentum. For the Catalan national movement to achieve its objectives without being worse off, ending the contentious relationship with Spain via an open dialogue is essential.