Catalonia Said Independence Is Coming — Then Hit Pause. Here's What You Need To Know.

Spain's PM responded by asking the Catalan government to clarify whether it had declared independence or not.

Tensions in Spain are higher than they've been in decades, as the region that's home to one of the country's largest cities announced on Tuesday that it will break away — eventually.

"We can't be forced to accept the status quo that has been imposed on us," Catalan President Carles Puigdemont told the region's parliament on Tuesday, laying out his argument for separation as pro-independence supporters gathered outside.

On Wednesday, Spain's PM Mariano Rajoy held a press conference where he asked the Catalan government to provide clarity on their position

The referendum took place earlier this month, when Catalans came out to vote in a move that the government in Madrid, the country's capital, had declared illegal, clashing with police in the process.

To understand why the small region, which accounts for nearly 20% of Spain’s economy, wants to break away in the first place, you have to go back. Way back.

By the time King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella married in 1469, uniting the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon into what would become modern Spain, Catalonia had been a part of Aragon for over 300 years.

After 1939, Spain spent several decades under the fascist rule of General Francisco Franco, a dictatorship during which Catalan independence was a bit of a moot point.

A referendum on a new statute — which called for the Catalan language to be given preferential treatment, declared Catalonia a "nation," and basically said the region doesn't have to cover the costs of other regions — was held in 2006.

BUT! That didn't last long. In 2010, the Spanish Constitutional Court ruled that the statute didn't quite meet the standards of the 1978 constitution, canceling parts of it and essentially rewriting others. The Catalans weren't pleased and took to the streets in protest.

Yet another referendum was announced in June — and this time, the Catalan government said, it was going to be binding. That's something that the government in Madrid did not like. Again.

Once more the government called the vote illegal, the locals ignored those warnings, and the referendum was held anyway, with Catalans craftily finding ways to vote even as the police raided voting stations.

Spain’s fellow members of the European Union for the most part backed it in shunning the referendum.

As the vote approached, there were some fears that Russian meddling would try to cause chaos in another NATO country.

I ask everyone to support Catalonia's right to self-determination. Spain cannot be permitted to normalize repressive acts to stop the vote.

@JulianAssange / Twitter / Via Twitter: @JulianAssange

Most of the concern was less about the vote itself and more about any campaign to sway voters coming from Russia. WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange both played a large role in the US campaign and were out in force advocating for Catalonian independence. Spanish newspaper El País and other local outlets focused on Assange and alleged bot networks pushing the Catalan movement on Twitter but no evidence has emerged yet that it was a coordinated effort from Moscow.

Caught in the middle of this has been the extremely popular football club Barcelona. La Liga, the top-level Spanish football league, scheduled a home game for the same day as the referendum and wow did that backfire.

King Felipe of Spain, who normally only addresses the country around Christmas, made a rare televised appearance after the vote, condemning the divisiveness it spawned.

Unswayed by royal speechifying, Puigdemont and Madrid spent the next weeks locked in negotiations over what to do next. On Tuesday, he entered the Catalan parliament and announced that the region would form an independent republic — but not right away.

"We call on the government to start a dialogue with us so we can achieve our objectives," Puigdemont said, calling on the European Union to ensure that the Catalonians rights are respected.