Today, on the Catalan national day hundreds of thousands of citizens marched the streets of Barcelona to show their support for the right to self-determination. In the meanwhile the Catalan state building process is culminating towards the referendum date of 1 October 2017. A new state is about to be born.
Catalans like to make the joke that indeed they are a “particular” nation, as in their national day, la diada nacional de Catalunya, they celebrate – or rather, commemorate – a defeat. The 11th of September 1714 Barcelona fell to Castilian troops, leaving almost no chance for Catalans and Aragonese to win the Spanish succession war. As much as these events may seem distant and archaic to understand current events in Catalonia, the defeat of 1714 created a different model of Spain; a previously unseen centralistic Spain, with little care for other languages, laws, and traditions apart from those of Castile. More than 300 years after these events, Catalans seem to be fed up of an assimilation process that never achieved it macabre goals, and fed up of trying to change a Spain that does not want to change itself.
The diada has been a public holiday in all the democratic periods of Catalonia (from 1931 to 1939 and since 1977), however, what used to be a very institutional national holiday, transformed in 2012 into a massive popular demonstration for independence. Since then, every year, more than a million people have marched and rallied every “11 de setembre”.
Nevertheless, this year’s diada will indeed be different, as it is being held only 3 weeks before the independence referendum on October the 1st. The Catalan government elected in September 2015, presided by Carles Puigdemont and with EFA member party Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya holding several key ministries, was Catalonia’s first openly pro-independence government, and as such, it has spent the last two years working on a self-determination referendum. The vote, announced in July 2017, has gathered much momentum over the summer, even with parties opposed to independence, and momentum is expected to increase after today’s demonstration. It is clear that the Catalan people want to vote over their nation’s political future, with most polls showing that over 80% of the population would prefer to resolve the current political stalemate by means of a referendum – either accorded with the Spanish state, or unilaterally organised by the Catalan government.
However, and unlike the attitude shown by other central governments in recent self-determination referendums, the Spanish government has showed no intention whatsoever of letting Catalan people vote over their own political future. For as much as Mariano Rajoy has been president of Spain, the attitude has always been the same: to neglect the pro-independence movement. This negationist tactic has proven to be totally unsuccessful, as the number of independence supporters has steadily grown over the last years. But as the 1-O vote approaches, Rajoy’s government has turned into more authoritarian methods to avoid the free self-determination of Catalans. As recently as this weekend, the Spanish Guardia Civil military police was sent to inquire into a printing house, and also searched in the newsroom of local newspaper “El Vallenc”, while its editor-in-chief was being questioned by the police. In both cases assisting or supporting the referendum is criminalised.
It is obvious that Spain has stopped neglecting “the Catalan issue”, and instead of taking the same approach that other democracies took when faced with similar cases, it seems like the Spanish government is ready to confront Catalonia with repression and an authoritarian response: from detention of the elected leaders to suspension of autonomy and direct rule from Madrid; all these options have not been discarded by Spanish authorities.
The European Free Alliance, present in the Diada, wants to strongly condemn those attitudes shown by the Spanish government. Furthermore, following the mandate of the 2015 elections, where pro-independence parties won a majority of seats, EFA supports the 1-O organised by the Catalan government. Political crises must be solved through political means, and the “Catalan question” has reached a situation where it can only be solved through a referendum, with all Catalans freely voting on whether they want independence, or to remain part of Spain.
We have no doubts that the referendum will be carried out, because in the 21st century and within the European Union, democracy can only but prevail; and the best move to certify the holding of the referendum are the massive support given by the people in the streets of Barcelona. As said by the head of the Catalan Government: the best guarantee to hold this referendum are the people. Showing to the entire world that Catalans want to vote, and also setting an example of a peaceful and democratic state-building process within the European Union.