A few days before the resumption of negotiations with Madrid, the Catalan separatists demonstrated on Saturday in the streets of Barcelona but failed to mobilize en masse, against a backdrop of disillusion and divisions four years after the failure of the 2017 secession attempt.
With the slogan “Let’s fight to gain independence“, this demonstration was called for the”Diada“, celebration of Catalonia which has become for a decade the scene of major independence demonstrations.
As every year, it set off at 5:14 p.m. sharp, in commemoration of the capture of Barcelona on September 11, 1714, during the War of the Spanish Succession, by the troops of the King of Spain Philippe V.
If at the height of the rise of independence in Catalonia, the “Diada” had gathered 1.8 million separatists in 2014, mobilization has fallen in recent years.
Saturday, the municipal police counted 108,000 demonstrators, a figure much lower than that of 2019 (600,000). The organizers mentioned the figure of 400.000.
In 2020, only 60,000 people had participated but the pandemic had prevented a normal demonstration from being organized.
For Narcís Vilar, a 70-year-old retiree who came for the first time to demonstrate alone, the weak mobilization on Saturday is explained by the fear of the pandemic, while Catalonia was this summer the epicenter of a new wave of Covid in Spain, but above all by the “discouragement” which reigns among the militants.
The pardon in June by the central government of the nine independence leaders sentenced to prison for their role in 2017 also caused the separatists to lose a mobilizing element.
Since the failure of the 2017 secession attempt, the separatist movement, still in power in Catalonia, has been marked by deep differences on the strategy to be adopted. The most moderate advocate dialogue with Madrid while the most radical still advocate unilateral secession as in 2017.
This attempt at secession was one of the worst crises experienced by Spain since the end of the Franco dictatorship in 1975.
Despite the judicial ban, the regional government of Carles Puigdemont had organized a self-determination referendum which was followed by a stillborn declaration of independence.
Madrid had reacted by placing the region under guardianship and arresting separatist leaders who had not fled abroad as Carles Puigdemont.
Negotiations in a tense climate
This “Diada“comes before the resumption scheduled for next weekend of negotiations between the left-wing government of Pedro Sanchez and the separatist regional executive of Pere Aragonès, whose ERC (Republican Left of Catalonia) party is a key ally in the Spanish parliament of the government minority of Pedro Sanchez.
These talks, which could not be held only once, just before the onset of the pandemic, are intended to tfind a way out of the crisis in Catalonia.
Pedro Sanchez, who has made the resumption of dialogue in Catalonia one of his priorities, indicated on Twitter on Saturday that he wanted “to move forward towards what unites us, to work for a positive Catalonia”.
But the roadmaps of the two parties are diametrically opposed, Madrid having already dismissed the two key demands of the separatists, namely an agreement on the organization of a self-determination referendum and the total amnesty of the separatists prosecuted for the attempt to secession of 2017.
To make matters worse, tensions were rekindled this week: the central government announced that it was suspending a controversial Barcelona airport expansion project, due to a “loss of trustworthy“in the separatist regional government.