Mobilizing Regional Separatist Sentiment: The Case of North and South Catalonia

My name is Lucas Leblanc, I am a rising junior majoring in International Relations. I am very excited to embark on this research experience in political science! My project has, and will continue to, involve interesting research as well as field work which I will be performing in the Catalan regions of both Spain and France.

Many of us have been shocked and surprised by the recent surge in separatist sentiment in Spain’s Catalan region, South Catalonia, in the past year. News stations from all over the world have publicized the rise of pro-independence parties in the region. Polls based in both Barcelona,  South Catalonia’s regional capital, and Madrid have indicated a sharp rise in separatist opinion all over the region. Many sources have cited the regions long standing cultural grievances emboldened by the ongoing economic crisis in Spain, which has brought unemployment in the country to around 25%. Despite an element of surprise, I quickly remembered that neighboring France also has its own Catalan region known as the Department of the Oriental Pyrenees, or more generally, North Catalonia.. This side of the border, with an albeit weaker but still present regional identity, has remained largely quiet with its separatist claims. Why then, seeing an economic crisis which has hit both economies hard, do we see nationalist grievances rise on only one side of the border? More generally, what does this difference in what I term separatist sentiment, have to tell us about the reasons for a region’s nationalist claims?   These are the fundamental questions of my research this summer.

My project idea takes advantage of two geopolitical realities to run a controlled comparative observational study. First, Catalonia as a cultural region spans three different states: Spain, France, as well as Andorra, although the latter will not prove relevant to my study. This allows me to ask this question of difference in the first place by looking at differences in mobilization which are well split among state lines. Second, the recent economic crisis has overlapped with a clear rise in separatist agitation in South Catalonia but no apparent change in the North. The economic crisis is key in allowing me to claim general control over other factors that may cause the difference, as I am studying the rise, or lack of, in separatism first and  its greater significance as a consequence.

My study will seek to answer this questions through a series of elite interviews on both sides of the border. The pool of participants is elected regional or local politicians. The key here is that such people will not only hold a developed opinion on the subject but will also represent broader constituency opinion. I will seek to interview separatists in the South, as they would be apt at explaining such a rise in sentiment, while interviewing principally integrationists in the North, because they would similarly best explain a lack of sentiment in France.

My final dissertation will look at existing theories and cases of regional separatism and draw on my findings to add to the discourse using the cases of North and South Catalonia during southern Europe’s most severe economic crisis since the end of the Second World War.

I will be use Barcelona as my hub for interviews in the South and Perpignan, North Catalonia’s largest city and departmental prefecture, as my center point for interviews in France. I will conduct further research on the two regions in the weeks before I leave, perform my field work in July, and compile my findings when I return in August.


-Lucas Leblanc 5/5/2013


  1. mkbentley says:

    Lucas, yours sounds extremely interesting as well! I look forward to seeing your results, because that is a part of Spain that I really know very little about (having spent the past two summers in Cádiz, Andalucía).

    My initial question is whether you plan to look at the history of separatism in the region, because I know that Spain has gone through periods where more than one region has demanded independence and periods where the country seems relatively united. So I might want to know what the circumstances were in the past that caused Catalonia to call for separation and whether that is reflected in the sentiments that you’re finding now.

  2. emrodvien says:

    Lucas, your research was so intriguing, and I am curious to know more about the Northern Catalan separatist movement. Despite having a lesser unified, lesser coordinated political movement, do people in Northern Catalonia identify as independent Catalans to the same extent as their counterparts in Southern Catalonia?