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Catalans Unsure Of Next Steps Following Independence Vote And Leadership Removal


It's been hard to keep track of the situation in Catalonia, even for locals. So to recap, the leaders of Catalonia tried to secede last month. They went as far as to declare independence. But then the Spanish government moved in and fired them. So what's next? Lauren Frayer reports from a town in Catalonia where a Spanish flag has been taken down from City Hall.


LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Sabadell is a city of 200,000 in the Catalan industrial heartland north of Barcelona. They call it the Manchester of Catalonia, a reference to Manchester, England, which also got rich from textile mills in the 19th century. Sabadell is where many of the wealthy titans of Catalan industry are based.

VICTOR COLOMER: We are in the middle of Sabadell, where are the three big powers of the town. Banco de Sabadell - this is a very old bank from 1881. On the other side, we have the church. They still have some power. And of course politics - the town hall, yes.

FRAYER: Victor Colomer, retired local journalist, took me on a tour. When we got to City Hall...

COLOMER: On the top of the building, it should be four flags. There is the Sabadell one, the Catalonia one. But the Spanish flag and the European flag have been taken down.


FRAYER: Mayor Maties Serracant took them down - the Spanish flag after Catalonia declared independence and the European Union flag because he's angry with the EU for not supporting Catalonia's secession.

SERRACANT: We thought that with the declaration, we could took off these symbols.

FRAYER: He says thought - past tense - because now the situation looks precarious. No country has recognized an independent Catalonia. The separatist leader Carles Puigdemont fled to Belgium. And Mayor Serracant is vulnerable. Spanish prosecutors are investigating him and 700 other mayors who allowed an independence referendum to be held October 1 in municipal buildings.

SERRACANT: I could be banished. I know. But that does not make me afraid. As a political representative of the citizens, I could do nothing else.

FRAYER: Sabadell's citizens voted overwhelmingly last month to separate from Spain, though Spanish courts ruled the vote illegal. College student Guillermo Fernandez says he nevertheless feels like he's already living in a new country.

GUILLERMO FERNANDEZ: I am happy because we are a republic. It is something that we want since the last centuries. Here we have the feeling that we are not Spain. We are another nation.

FRAYER: Catalonia's wealth, a lot of it based here in Sabadell, is what makes some people want independence. They don't want to subsidize poorer parts of Spain. But political uncertainty could sabotage that prosperity. Banco Sabadell is 1 of nearly 2,000 companies who changed their tax residency last month to other, more stable Spanish regions.

At a local cafe, Amat Batlle Cardona nurses his coffee. He's 26 and unemployed.

AMAT BATLLE CARDONA: (Foreign language spoken).

FRAYER: "Catalonia has actually lost autonomy," he says, "now that Madrid has fired Catalan officials and taken over institutions." He still wants independence, but he wonders if it's all been worth it. He passes by the town hall daily, glancing up at the flags and wonders what direction his region is headed in. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Sabadell. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.