This vibrant northern region of Catalonia has long been known as the "factory of Spain" for generating wealth that helped sustain the entire nation. Now Catalonia, beaten down by years of recession, has become the battleground in what threatens to become an economic civil war.
In protests large and small, hundreds of thousands of Catalans are embracing a stark proposition: Only by breaking ties with Spain and becoming an independent country can Catalonia free itself from economic malaise.
Catalans go to the polls Nov. 25 for a regional parliamentary election, and polls show pro-independence parties in front.
"Madrid has been draining us dry for too long," says Josep Casadella, a corporate human-resources administrator. He became an Internet sensation not long ago after posting a video of himself refusing to pay the fare at a toll booth and complaining that Spain should build free roads for all the taxes it collects