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Catalans to celebrate their national day with independence protests

Catalans unfurl a huge pro-independence flag during Diada celebrations in Barcelona in 2015
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On Monday afternoon, hundreds of thousands of people will gather across Catalonia to remember a disastrous defeat. Many among them, however, will be hoping that an equally momentous victory is not too far off.

Although Catalonia’s national day, the Diada, commemorates the fall of Barcelona in the Spanish war of succession in 1714 – and the region’s subsequent loss of institutions and freedoms – it recently has come to serve a rather different purpose.

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Since 2012, the event has become an overtly political affair for those seeking Catalonia’s secession from Spain – a celebration that is part carnival, part rally and part protest.

This year’s Diada, which comes less than a month before the regional government stages an independence referendum that it insists is legally binding but which Madrid views as a clear and illegal breach of the Spanish constitution, will be even more charged than usual.

Last week, pro-independence Catalan MPs defied the Spanish government – and many of their fellow parliamentarians – by passing the so-called referendum law that lays the foundation for the vote on 1 October.

The legislation was quickly suspended by Spain’s constitutional court and state prosecutors are looking into whether the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, and other members of his government should be charged with disobedience and abuse of power.

On Friday, police investigating preparations for the referendum searched two regional newspaper offices and a printer’s shop in Catalonia. Puigdemont tweeted: “They weren’t looking for ballot papers; they were looking for a fight.”

Despite the Spanish government’s repeated insistence that the referendum will not go ahead, the president is adamant that the vote will take place and has urged pro-sovereignty Catalans to take to the streets to show their support.

“On Monday we will overwhelm them peacefully and democratically, as always,” he said.
ordi Sànchez, the president of the leading independence organisation the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), said the proposed October vote had given this year’s Diada a special significance.

“What we’re going to see is a commitment to sovereignty through the referendum and a desire to resolve this argument or conflict – whatever you want to call it – that’s been going on quite openly now for six years,” he said.

“The Diada is a historic day of self-affirmation and expression; it’s about the symbolic remembering of the freedoms that were lost 300 years ago.

“But I think that romantic idea is becoming less and less important; the Diada got stronger after Catalanism itself got stronger and began looking to the future. That’s the key point: today, for a lot of people, the Diada is the day when you can show your unequivocal support for a future that’s different from the past and the present.”

It is not a view shared by all Catalans. Álex Ramos, vice-president of Societat Civil Catalana, a group that opposes independence, says the ANC and others have coopted the Diada for their own propaganda purposes
We see the Diada as a day of historical commemoration, but it’s been interpreted by the secessionist movement as an example of victimhood and used as a motor to drive the movement,” he said.

“They explain it their own way. But it was a war for monarchical succession and not a war against Catalonia, which is how they try to portray it.”

Ramos conceded that the independence movement had a talent for mobilising people and getting its message across, but he said Catalans – including secessionists – were growing tired of the whole process.

“There’s also a sense of boredom,” he said. “We want to get this resolved without any problems and then there will be the huge task of winning back people’s trust and rebuilding bridges.

“At the end of the day, it’s like a family quarrel. This isn’t a problem between Spain and Catalonia; it’s a problem between some Catalans and others. As far as the majority of us are concerned, independence wouldn’t do anything for us, either economically or emotionally.”

Antonio Barroso, an analyst at the political risk advisory firm Teneo Intelligence, said the separatists would use this year’s Diada as way to get their message out to Catalonia, Spain and the world as loudly as possible.

“It’s going to be completely monopolised by the pro-independence movement,” he said.

It’s a preamble to a referendum that will probably not happen; they’re going to try to make it a show of force and numbers, which is one of their biggest strengths. But it’s not about the number of people on the streets, it’s about the fact that they’re about to mobilise a lot of people. It’s a way of showcasing popular support.”

While the majority of Catalans are in favour of a referendum to settle the question of independence, polls suggest they are split on the issue itself.

According to a poll at the end of July, 49.4% of Catalans are against independence, while 41.1% support it. However, a poll last week found that were the referendum to go ahead, the yes campaign would take 72% of the vote on a turnout of 50%.