Are people losing interest in Catalonia’s pro-independence demonstrations?

Yesterday the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) released initial data on this year’s pro-independence rally, with the main headline being that registrations for the event have fallen 25%.

Every year since 2013, the pro-independence organisation has organised a large protest in support of independence on 11 September, Catalonia’s national day. So far 37,500 people have registered to take part in this year’s demonstration, a fall of one quarter compared to this time last year.

The drop in registrations was gleefully reported by the Madrid-based media, with El Mundo’s headline recalling that it is the lowest uptake in six years, while El País says that the reduction comes in the middle of division within the pro-independence movement. Catalan media sympathetic towards independence also recognised the fall, with El Nacional, El Punt Avui and VilaWeb all reporting the registration data.

The division between the two main secessionist political parties Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia) and Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Republican Left of Catalonia) is well documented, particularly since local elections in May, following which both parties formed post-electoral pacts with unionists across Catalonia.

In the midst of the political division, the ANC decided that this year’s demonstration should be about highlighting that, wherever people come from, their objective is the same: the independence of Catalonia. To achieve this, they are focusing the protest on Barcelona’s plaça d’Espanya, where demonstrators will merge from the five main surrounding streets and form the shape of a star. The motto for this year’s demonstration is Objectiu independència, or Objective independence.

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Not one step backwards (no surrender)

In the Bruce Springsteen song “No Surrender” we are reminded of it; from the same humility but also determination, we sing together to neither go backwards nor surrender.

We are conscious that it would be the retreat and surrender of future generations, and we don’t have that right.

MHP Carles Puigdemont i Casamajó

With those words, spoken whilst still awaiting the outcome of extradition proceedings in Germany, the former President of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, implored supporters of independence that there can be no retreat from the progress made so far.

The Catalan Government was forcibly removed from office immediately after the independence referendum and subsequent declaration of independence last October. Six members of that Government are now in prison awaiting trial and a further five are in self-imposed exile. They are:

  • Oriol Junqueras – Vice President and Minister of Economy and Finance
    In prison since 2 November 2017
  • Joaquim Forn – Minister of the Interior
    In prison since 2 November 2017
  • Dolors Bassa – Minister of Social Welfare, Employment and Family
    In prison since 23 March 2018, previously in prison between 2 November 2017 and 4 December 2017
  • Raül Romeva – Minister of Foreign Affairs, Institutional Relations, and Transparency
    In prison since 23 March 2018, previously in prison between 2 November 2017 and 4 December 2017
  • Josep Rull – Minister of Planning and Sustainability
    In prison since 23 March 2018, previously in prison between 2 November 2017 and 4 December 2017
  • Jordi Turull – Minister of Presidency and Spokesperson of the Government
    In prison since 23 March 2018, previously in prison between 2 November 2017 and 4 December 2017
  • Carles Puigdemont – President
    In exile since 30 October 2017
  • Antoni Comín – Minister of Health
    In exile since 30 October 2017
  • Meritxell Serret – Minister of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Food
    In exile since 30 October 2017
  • Lluís Puig – Minister of Culture
    In exile since 30 October 2017
  • Clara Ponsatí – Minister of Education
    In exile since 30 October 2017

Other politicians and civil society leaders are also in prison or self-imposed exile (or on bail awaiting trial) for their role in the referendum. These include:

  • Jordi Cuixart – President of Òmnium Cultural
    In prison since 16 October 2017
  • Jordi Sànchez – President of the Catalan National Assembly
    In prison since 16 October 2017
  • Carme Forcadell – President of the Parliament of Catalonia
    In prison since 23 March 2018, previously in prison between 9 November 2017 and 10 November 2017
  • Meritxell Borràs – Minister of Governance, Public Administration and Housing
    Previously in prison between 2 November 2017 and 4 December 2017
  • Marta Rovira – General Secretary of the Republican Left of Catalonia
    In exile since 23 March 2018

In recognition of these political prisoners and exiles, a group of supportive Catalan singers and songwriters, organised by director Hèctor Suñol, performed a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “No Surrender”, with lyrics powerfully reminding Catalans that, despite everything that has happened, they should not lose faith.

Starting in April, Suñol crowdfunded some €5,000 for the project, which was released on 13 July. The video includes archive footage of the political prisoners and exiles and the police violence against voters on the day of the referendum. It starts with a dedication from Carles Puigdemont (quoted above).

The video is, above all, a reminder that, whatever obstacles are placed in the way, democracy and the will of the people will, ultimately, prevail.

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Victory for “Yes”

The two Catalan seperatist forces have won an absolute majority in the Generalitat.

Junts pel Sí (JxS), the coalition formed for these elections, and Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (CUP) have won an absolute majority of seats in the regional assembly, claiming victory and the right to negotiate seperation from Spain.

However, opponents of independence have claimed that their push lacks legitimacy, as they have failed to win a majority of votes, falling 3 points short.

JxS won 62 of the parliamentary seats, six short of a majority of 68, but will work to form a “transitional” government with CUP, who more than tripled their number of seats and now have 10 representatives. One of the biggest obstacles to an agreement will be JxS’ proposal for Artur Mas to be president, which CUP have consistently opposed due to allegations of corruption (among many other reasons).

For opponents of independence, the fact that the separatist forces only achieved 47.7% of the popular vote suggests that independence is now a dead issue. However, those opposed to independence polled 41.6% and have just 52 representatives. The remaining voters seem to be largely in favour of a legal referendum, but in the absence of such a referendum it is impossible to attribute their votes to either the pro- or anti-independence side.

Ciutadans, who are now the second largest party after increasing their number of seats from 9 to 25, are opposed to independence. Their candidate for president, Inés Arrimadas, said last night that the question had been settled, that a majority were opposed and that another vote should be called with parties focusing on what they would do for Catalunya, rather than independence.

However, to do so would be to betray the majority of people who are unhappy with the current relationship with the Spanish state, and JxS and CUP have the necessary majority in the Generalitat to push for independence or, at least, negotiate a better deal with whoever is in power in Spain after December’s elections, in which the future of Catalunya is bound to be a major theme.

Yesterday’s election is not the end of the independence story, but merely a pause in the current chapter. The story will never end until Catalunya achieves full independence and, until then, there is always time to write another page…