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In southern Spain, concern and rejection of Catalan referendum

Published on 24/09/2017

He lives far away, but Jose Jimenez is convinced that Catalonia's independence referendum "won't result in anything," one of many Spaniards in the sprawling southern Andalusia region following the separatist crisis with concern.

Andalusia is hundreds of kilometres away from the northeastern region, whose separatist executive is preparing to hold the referendum on October 1 that Madrid has banned and wants to stop at all costs, but they are close both on a human and economic level.

Spaniards in the poorer Andalusia migrated massively to Catalonia in the 1950s, 60s and 70s in search of a better life.

There are now close to 600,000 Andalusians in Catalonia.

– ‘Talk of the town’ –

The current crisis “is the talk of the town in cafes, at work,” says Juan Antonio Palmero, director of a bank branch in Archidona, a village in Andalusia of whitewashed houses and vast olive groves.

And the economic consequences of Catalonia splitting from Spain is a chief concern.

“It wouldn’t be beneficial at all, for business in general,” says Leocadio Corbacho, a 71-year-old who sells 25 percent of his prized possession — jamon (Spanish dry-cured ham) — in Catalonia.

“Here there’s a lot of feelings of rejection” of the independence drive, agrees Jesus Catena, a furniture maker in Lucena, some 60 kilometres (40 miles) from Archidona.

Andalusia is Spain’s most populated region, with 8.3 million inhabitants in 2016, around 800,000 more than Catalonia.

It depends on tourism and agriculture, but has the second lowest income per capita among the 17 Spanish regions, while Catalonia is in fourth position.

One of the arguments used by Catalan separatists is that their region pays more in taxes than it receives in investments and transfers from Madrid — or simply put that “Spain robs us.”

Andalusians, whose poorer region has received more than it pays in taxes and has also benefited from European aid, aren’t happy about this argument.

“If you take this to the max, then Germany would say it needs to leave the EU, and in Catalonia, Barcelona could say it pays more,” says businessman Jose Miguel Trujillo.

Jean-Baptiste Harguindeguy of the Pablo de Olavide University in southern Seville says this argument has generated “much frustration” in Andalusia.

“It’s the region that most needs Catalan money,” he explains.

– ‘Don’t know what they want’ –

On the streets, feelings about the Catalan bid to hold a referendum vary from indifference, contempt to defiance… and even derision.

In a bar in Antequera in the centre of Andalusia, a group of friends make fun of Catalan President Carles Puigdemont’s mop of hair.

And in Iznajar some 50 kilometres away, retiree Diego Ortiz defiantly tells Catalans to vote “whatever they want.”

“And when they find themselves without a job, then they should find a life. These kids don’t know what they want.”

Jimenez, another retiree sitting on a bench at the entrance of a medical centre, believes this is all about “minor politicians who want to be the masters” of Catalonia.

Mayors too have a say in the matter, given they know some of their Catalan counterparts well.

“Ties at an institutional and personal level are very good,” says Lope Ruiz, mayor of Iznajar.

But he recognises there is a problem with the perception of Catalans by Andalusians and vice-versa.

“We Andalusians are lazy, party-loving and we don’t work, the Catalans are stingy and closed… and I think it’s not true,” he says.

“In both places we are people who get up at seven in the morning, who go to work and want our towns and families to develop and get wealthy.”

He points out that Jose Montilla, Catalan president from 2006 to 2010, was born in 1955 near Iznajar.

“If someone who was born in one of the most remote hamlets of this municipality rose to become president of Catalonia, then we’re not so different.”