Barcelona (ACN).- The largest demonstration ever made in Catalonia has univocally called for the Catalan independence from Spain and ended by asking to start the secession process. This Tuesday evening, coinciding with Catalonia’s National Day, 1.5 million people marched through downtown Barcelona, after the banner “Catalonia, Europe’s new state”, made public weeks ago. The Spanish Government reported a reduced figure of 600,000 participants and the organisers talked about a 2 million strong crowd. In any case, the demonstration saturated Barcelona’s city centre with the entire Passeig de Gràcia Boulevard, adjacent streets, Via Laietana Street and Marqués de l’Argentera Avenue packed with people and Catalan flags, in the largest demonstration ever made in Barcelona. In fact, many people stayed in the same spot for the entire demonstration, as they could not move being blocked by the crowd. Most of the flags were Catalan independence flags (which have a triangle with a star) and participants were constantly shouting pro-independence chants in a peaceful and festive way. In addition, a manifesto in Spanish was read stating that Catalans are tired of having to “pay for Spain’s excesses” while there is “hostility towards Catalonia”. The organisers were received by the President of the Catalan Parliament, Núria de Gispert, who thanked them for having shown that “the Catalan people is alive”. She also thanked them for having mobilised so many citizens. An example of the mobilisation is the 1,200 special buses that shuttled people from many towns and villages of Catalonia to Barcelona to participate in the demonstration. De Gispert announced that the Catalan President, Artur Mas, will meet this week with the demonstration’s organisers. The reasons for the demonstration are manifold and relate to cultural, historical, political and economic aspects. The support for Catalonia’s independence has significantly increased in the last few years, fuelled by the economic crisis but also by the Spanish nationalism with its attacks against the Catalan language and its attempts to recentralise Spain.
In total, the massive demonstration was a 3.1 kilometre long crowd and without a doubt it has been the most crowded ever made in the Catalan capital, with more participants that those from 2003 against the Iraq War and from 2000 condemning the assassination of Ernest Lluch by ETA. This Tuesday’s demonstration had more participants than the march from July 10th 2010, organised after the Spanish Constitutional Court’s trimming of Catalonia’s main law, approved four years earlier by the Catalan and Spanish Parliaments, and by the Catalan People through a binding referendum. The 2010 demonstration, with more than 1 million participants, was claiming that Catalonia is a nation and it has the right to decide on its future. Two years later, this Tuesday’s demonstration, which many were seeing as 2010’s second part, directly asked for independence from Spain and it ended with the petition to start the secession process.
Many Catalan celebrities such as writers, actors, musicians and university chairs participated in the demonstration for independence from Spain. In addition, many civil society organisations also participated, including the main trade unions, UGT and CCOO. In addition, most of the main Catalan politicians were also present.
The Catalan President did not attend but gave his personal support to the march
The Catalan President, Artur Mas, did not attend the demonstration but he had given his support “at a personal level”. Mas justified his absence as his institutional position means attending an independence demonstration is not recommended. Furthermore, Mas still insists on the strategy to negotiate a new fiscal agreement with Spain, reducing the high solidarity contributions of Catalonia to the rest of Spain, which official studies quantify as being 8.5% of Catalonia GDP (some €17 billion per year). Despite Mas’ absence, most of the members of the Catalan Government attended the march. In addition, all the living former Presidents of the Catalan Government and those of the Catalan Parliament attended the demonstration, including the historical leader of Catalan nationalism Jordi Pujol and the last Socialist President José Montilla. The only absentee was Pasqual Maragall for health reasons, although he had previously given his support to the march. Furthermore, the Presidents of the four Provincial Councils were present, as well as the Mayors from Barcelona, Girona and Lleida, among other cities and towns.
CiU, ICV-EUiA, ERC and SI were present
Regarding the political parties present at the Catalan Parliament, the majority of them attended the demonstration. This was the case of the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition ‘Convergència i Unió’ (CiU), which runs the Catalan Government. After weeks of speculation and announcements about who amongst its leaders would attend the demonstration, they were all there except the Catalan President. This includes Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida, CiU’s number two and leader of the Christian-Democrat Party UDC, the smaller part of the two-party coalition CiU. The parties that openly defend Catalonia’s independence were obviously present. This is the case with the Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party (ERC) and the small and radical Catalan Independence Coalition ‘Solidaritat’ (SI). In addition, the Catalan Green Socialist and Communist Coalition (ICV-EUiA) were also present, to ask not only for the freedom to decide Catalonia’s future “but also to decide freely from the markets”.
Some PSC members were present at a personal level and the PP and C’s were absent
The main opposition party in Catalonia, the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) was not officially supporting the demonstration, since they defend a federal Spain recognising Catalonia’s specificity. However, some of its leading members, representing the PSC’s most pro-Catalan faction, were present at the demonstration at a personal level. The only two parties that were not present at the demonstration were the People’s Party (PP), which runs the Spanish Government, and the marginal anti-Catalan nationalism ‘Ciutadans’ (C’s). The PP and C’s represent 15% of the MPs at the Catalan Parliament.
The demonstration ends with the petition to start the secession process
At the end of the demonstration, at the gates of the Ciutadella Park, where the Catalan Parliament is located, participants made a symbolic vote. They voted for becoming an independent state, having the Catalan flag at the United Nations and asking Catalan politicians to start the secession process, under international law. Participants were raising green cardboards for affirmative votes. All the questions were answered by a sea of green cards. As an anecdote, even the former FC Barcelona’s Manager, Josep Guardiola, joined from New York showing a green card.
A peaceful and festive demonstration with many families
The organisers, which is a platform of individual citizens, civil society organisations and some small town halls, were extremely happy with the result, which exceeded predictions. The demonstration has been the largest ever and it has showed the transversal support for the Catalan independence. In addition, it has highlighted Catalan nationalism’s democratic and peaceful profile. The demonstration has been peaceful, festive, and with the presence of many families, with children and the elderly.
The reasons behind the colossal demonstration for Catalonia’s independence
Why are so many Catalans calling for independence from Spain? The reasons are manifold and relate to cultural, historical, political and economic aspects. The support for Catalonia’s independence has significantly increased in the last few years, fuelled by the economic crisis but also by the Spanish nationalism with its attacks against the Catalan language and its attempts to recentralise Spain. In fact, there has been a change within Catalan nationalism: many Catalans are deeply disappointed with Spain, they are tired of justifying Catalonia’s national status and language, and they have now abandoned all hope that the rest of Spain will try to understand their claims and find a comfortable place for Catalonia within a plurinational Spanish state, from a political, cultural and economic perspective.
In fact, in general terms, Catalan nationalism has been seeking agreements with the Spanish nationalists for the last 150 years, trying to find a comfortable place for the Catalan nation within the Spanish state. Independence supporters existed, but most of the time they were a minority within Catalan nationalism. Now, according to the latest poll conducted by the Catalan Statistics Institute (CEO), 51% of Catalan citizens would vote for the independence in a hypothetical referendum. It is the highest figure ever.
The 4 main reasons behind the current drive for Catalonia’s independence
There are four main reasons: little respect for Catalan language and culture; Spain’s lack of recognition of its plurinational nature; the attempts to recentralise Spain and trim Catalonia’s self-government; and, Catalonia’s excessive fiscal contribution to pay for investments and services delivered in the rest of Spain, an amount that official studies made by the Spanish Finance Ministry stated it represents between 6.4% and 8.7% of Catalonia’s GDP annually (between €13.1 billion and €17.8 billion). Recent political movements by Spanish nationalists have demonstrated the first three reasons. The economic crisis has emphasised the unfairness of the fourth reason, since now Catalonia cannot pay for its basic services and has the largest debt among the Autonomies despite continuing to transfer the largest amount of money to the rest of Spain and being a net contributor to the European Union for decades. Furthermore, after the fiscal redistribution, Catalonia has worse public services than subsidised regions.
In this scenario, traditionally Catalan nationalists would have tried to negotiate with the Spanish nationalists and smooth over the situation. In fact, the new fiscal agreement that the Catalan Government is trying to push forward but that the Spanish Government refuses to negotiate still applies this logic. However, a large part of the Catalan population is extremely tired of these negotiations and has given up all hope of an agreement. The Spanish Government’s refusal to even discuss a new fiscal agreement between Catalonia and Spain, similar to what the Basque Country and Navarra already have, reaffirms the exasperation of many Catalan nationalists trying to reform Spain. Most of them have given up trying and have concluded that the only solution is independence.