Via the BBC, a bite-size primer on Catalonia:
The area first emerged as a distinct entity with the rise of the County of Barcelona to pre-eminence in the 11th century. In the 12th century, the county was brought under the same royal rule as the neighbouring kingdom of Aragon, going on to become a major medieval sea power.
Catalonia has been part of Spain since its genesis in the 15th century, when King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile married and united their realms.
Initially retaining its own institutions, the region was ever more tightly integrated into the Spanish state, until the 19th century ushered in a renewed sense of Catalan identity, which flowed into a campaign for political autonomy and even separatism. The period also saw an effort to revive Catalan, long in decline by then, as a language of literature.
More at the link. And here’s a Bloomberg piece about the triumph of identity over money:
As recently as July, secessionists in Catalonia seemed to be in retreat. Spain was the fastest-growing of continental Europe’s big four economies, creating jobs at a rapid clip. A poll that month by the Catalan government showed that support for independence had fallen to 35 percent, its lowest level since 2012. It appeared that Enric Millo, the Spanish government’s representative in Catalonia, might have been right when he predicted in 2012 that once removed from the flame of financial crisis, “separatism would sink like a soufflé.” […]
The groundswell of separatist sentiment in Catalonia has shown Spain and the world that money isn’t everything.
“Follow the money” is actually a pretty terrible rule of thumb for understanding most human affairs.
A strengthening economy may have quelled Catalan nationalism a bit, but the desire many have for independence had deeper sources and never went away. Then Rajoy, playing to his conservative base, badly miscalculated. He thought a show of force would keep voters at home. But his attempt to stop the vote just pushed more Catalans into the separatist camp. “In the longer term, the divisions in Spain become more entrenched,” says Antonio Barroso, a political risk analyst at Teneo Intelligence in London.
Violent “shows of force” tend to have that effect.
Many economists think Catalonia would be worse off economically on its own. The outcome hinges on whether it would assume a share of Spain’s national debt, whether it would be permitted to join the European Union and adopt the euro, and how much it would cost to replicate services—such as defense—it gets from Madrid. Further complicating matters, Spain could throw up legal obstacles to secession. One reason many Catalans have shied from independence in the past is that they weren’t ready to take a leap into the unknown.
But the violence that marred the Oct. 1 vote has focused Catalans’ minds on issues other than euros. “At some point the economic considerations start to be irrelevant and identity becomes paramount,” says Ghemawat. On Oct. 1, he says, “we took a giant step in that direction.”