STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The Scots recently decided against independence in a headline-making referendum that could've seen Scotland break away from the United Kingdom. A less momentous vote for independence took place in Spain yesterday, where residents of the region of Catalonia chose overwhelmingly to break away from Spain, but that doesn't mean they will. This referendum is only symbolic. Lauren Frayer has more.
LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Despite a light drizzle, it was a festive weekend of Catalan music, speeches and voting. Huge video screens at a downtown Barcelona rally showed footage of the Berlin Wall and Nelson Mandela juxtaposed with images from Catalan history. The message - this vote was about freedom. Despite fears Madrid might send police to block the vote, it went off peacefully. Catalan president Artur Mas compared it to other separatist referenda.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
PRESIDENT ARTUR MAS: Like Quebec, like Scotland, Catalonia also wants to decide its political future. And we have the same rights to deciding.
FRAYER: Eighty-one percent of those who voted said yes to independence. But even Catalan leaders acknowledge the vote was only symbolic. So it may have skewed turnout toward people who want change rather than the status quo.
SUSANA BELTRAN: The people that want independence are very activated.
FRAYER: Susana Beltran is part of a local group in favor of staying in Spain. She didn't vote and says, there are many Catalans like her.
BELTRAN: Sometimes, it seems that only in Catalonia, there are people that want independence. It's not like this, but the people that don't want this, they don't want to talk out loud.
FRAYER: Fewer than half of eligible voters turned out. Still, it was the largest expression of pro-independent sentiment to date. Organizers hope it forces Madrid to grant Catalonia more autonomy. But Madrid is unlikely to do that if it requires changing the Constitution, says Spanish political scientist Sofia Perez.
SOFIA PEREZ: More likely, I think is some sort of compromise that would allow Catalonia to retain a larger share of the taxes that are raised in Catalonia.
FRAYER: Many Catalan believe their wealthy region unfairly subsidizes poorer parts of Spain. On his way home from voting, Juan Carles Cifre says, he hopes this poll sends a message to Madrid about Catalans' discontent.
JUAN CARLES CIFRE: I think that it's a message for the Spanish government that perhaps today is not going to be - change anything, but we need to change things in the next future.
FRAYER: So far, the change Madrid is willing to discuss falls far short of what many Catalans want. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Barcelona.
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