CATALONIA & SARAWAK: The Issue of Independence from West to East

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Ed’s note: With the Catalonia regional election (27 September) in mind, Douglas Jau wrote the article below.


If after a long and hard thinking Catalonia and Sarawak are still convinced that their future is brighter as independent countries,
then they must be able to show to the world the
viability of their respective endeavor


by Douglas Jau


September 27 was, and still is, a crucial date; it will determine what the next step for Catalonia will be. All 135 seats in Catalan Parliament were up for grabs. Political observers were expecting the pro-independence parties to win the election. With that bright prospect ahead Arthur Mas, the president of the Generalitat de Catalonia and one of the leaders of the Catalan independence movement, has vowed to push through an 18-month secession plan for the region.

It has been a very long and historic journey for Catalonia, one that is still ongoing. Underpinning the whole movement is the autonomous region’s contemporary political and cultural ideology based on its history, language and tradition.

The struggle for Catalonia’s independence started off as early as 1640 after the Reaper’s War, a.k.a. Catalan Revolt, 1640 – 1659.

As of today, Catalonia’s GDP (the total worth of its annual production and services within the territory) of around €246 billion is bigger than Greece’s and on a par with Portugal’s. This translates to 1/5 of the Spanish economy. Therefore if Catalonia breaks away from Spain the economic impact on latter will be immense. It will be forced out of the European Union and will be the next big headache for the Eurozone.

Public opinions in and out of Catalonia are mixed. According to the prestigious think-tank Centre d’Estudis d’Opinió (Center for Opinion Studies), in the second series of polls for 2015, 42.9% of the Catalans are in favor of independence and 50% are against. This split down the middle is echoed by various other opinion polls like those conducted by the Social Research Center (Centro de Investigaciones Sociales) and the Social and Political Science Institute of Barcelona (Institut de Ciències Polítiques i Socials).

On the other side of the world, there is a roughly similar separatism in the state of Sarawak on the island of Borneo in Malaysia. Sarawak gained its independence from the British in July 22, 1963 and joined the Federation of Malaya on September 16 of the same year. The state is cut off from the Malaysian Peninsula by the South China Sea thereby allowing it to develop its own identity, culture and language, and go through a distinct history.

In 2015, Sarawak celebrated its 52nd year with the Malayan federation. The celebration was not a joyous affair as it was marred by a dark mood of resentment towards the central government. When Sarawak joined up with what was then the Federation of Malaya, it signed a 20-point agreement that was to safeguard the interests, rights and autonomy of the Sarawakian people.

The new Sarawak state assembly

The new Sarawak state assembly

Sarawak, the majority of whose population are non-Muslim, has been autonomous in many respects since its independence. But in recent times the central government has been interfering with its autonomy, especially in the face of the growing Islamization in the main states of Malaysia, bringing the conflict to a new height.

To top this off, an accusation of corruption against the prime minister has greatly eroded support for the central government. He allegedly received a bribe of U$700 million which was deposited directly into his bank account.

Gathering signatures for the referendum

Gathering signatures for the referendum on Sarawakian rights

The latest on the Sarawakian scene is the “Sarawak For Sarawakians” initiative which is trying to gather 300,000 signatures that will facilitate the holding of a referendum to protect the rights of Sarawak under the Agreement of 1963.

Back to Catalonia:

If Catalonia seceded from Spain and founded its own state as an independent nation, it will have to apply for membership to the EU. But perhaps blinded by nationalistic euphoria, the secessionist Catalans have convinced themselves that this is one difficulty they could overcome.  Difficulties such as this could be more than compensated by a GDP that will be a higher than the European average, more generous pensions and lower taxes. They will also no longer be burdened by Catalonia’s fiscal deficit with the rest of Spain (the difference between the amount of local tax contributed to the national treasury and what Catalonia receives from the central government for regional public spending), a whopping €15 billion.

On the not so bright side, there is the fact that the Catalan trade is dependent on the Spanish market which accounts for 41.3% of its sales.

To conclude:

Catalonia has a long and historic struggle for independence while the Sarawakian movement is relatively recent. Of the two aspirants for independence Catalonia has a better prospect as a stand-alone country. Sarawak is still struggling to formulate a coherent vision of itself as a nation and has a long way to go before it could achieve self-sufficiency, let alone independence.

In both cases, it is imperative for the people to have a clear idea of what independence would really entail. If after long and hard thinking Catalonia and Sarawak are still convinced that their future is brighter as independent countries, then they must be able to show to the world the viability of their respective endeavor.


>Featured image: Independence for Catalonia rally August 2013, Times Square, NY, by Liz Castro: , CC BY-SA 2.0 Cropped
>New Sarawak state assembly building by Cerevisae: CC BY-SA 3.0
>Sarawakians gathering signatures for referendum: Sarawak for Sarawakian Miri Facebook account, Fair Use


Douglas, a Guidepost staff writer, is a Malaysian currently based in Madrid. He’s actually a geophysicist with a 5-year international working experience but then he is also a writer at heart! A self-avowed lover of Madrid he first “met” the lovely Spanish capital in 2012 and fell head over heels so that he keeps coming back for more. His main interests are “anything related to the amazing city.”