Today, millions of citizens of the Spanish region of Catalonia hope to vote in a referendum to declare their independence. Many Catalans feel that they are, historically, a separate people with their own distinct language and culture that must be protected through the restoration of their own nation.
But Spain’s government is vehemently opposed to such a referendum even taking place. The country’s constitutional court has declared the referendum illegal, and the national police have arrested 14 senior Catalan officials and confiscated millions of ballot papers. Judges have ordered the police to seize any building or materials related to the referendum to ensure that a vote does not take place. These actions have prompted mass protests, and Spain’s Interior Ministry has deployed thousands of extra police to the region ahead of what it expects to turn into a violent day.
As researchers at Artis International, an organization of academics and practitioners that conducts field-based research on political conflicts around the world, we sought to study the underlying psychology of the Catalan independence movement to better understand what could strengthen or weaken it. Our study consisted of 24 in-depth ethnographic interviews with leaders of the “independentist” movement, and several dozen more with supporters and non-supporters of independence. In addition, we conducted 68 longitudinal psychometric surveys with independence activists during a non-binding—and thus symbolic—referendum held in 2014 that was not recognized as legitimate by Spain.