Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to rally in Barcelona today to show support for an independent Catalan nation and the right to vote in a contested referendum .
The rally falls on National Catalonia Day, which is celebrated annually to mark the fall of Barcelona to the army of a pretender to the Spanish throne in 1714 following a months-long siege.
The anniversary traditionally mobilises many Catalans but this year it comes amid deep social and political division over the Oct. 1 vote.
Most Catalans support a vote on whether the prosperous region’s future lies within or outside of Spain, but polls show that an agreed referendum is preferred to one opposed by the central government.
They are also roughly divided over the independence issue. Spain has claimed the vote is illegal.
According to a June survey by CEO, the Catalan government’s own polling agency, 41 percent supported independence while 49 percent were for staying in Spain.
Most Spaniards reject the idea, however, and Spain’s constitutional court has ordered the vote suspended while it considers the central government’s claim that it is unconstitutional. In previous rulings, the court has said that only central authorities can call a vote on secession and that all Spanish nationals have to be part of a decision on sovereignty.
But the Catalan government has vowed to hold the referendum and be bound by its result to either declare independence or call regional elections.
In a proof of their commitment to hold the vote, Catalan officials on Monday said that mail-in voting by Catalan expatriates had already started.
“The Catalan community that lives abroad has already started to vote,” Catalonia’s regional foreign affairs chief Raul Romeva said on Monday during a meeting with foreign reporters.
He did not elaborate, but according to the regional government’s website for the referendum, Catalans registered as permanently living abroad can request a ballot by mail.
The economically powerful Catalonia has a thriving population of 7.5 million and accounts for a fifth of Spain’s economic output.
The pro-independence coalition ruling Catalonia has argued that the EU and other countries will be recognising a new nation in Catalonia because its annual GDP is greater than Greece’s and similar to Finland’s.
On Monday, regional president Carles Puigdemont said that “in democracy there is no such thing as the right to not dialogue.” If the “Yes” vote wins in the Oct. 1 vote, Puigdemont said, “we will have won the right to be listened to” by the European Union.
Spain argues that an independent Catalonia would be ejected from the European Union and left out from using the euro currency. European officials have cautiously supported Madrid’s stance in the conflict.
European Parliament president Antonio Tajani has publicly stated that “any action against the constitution of a Member State is an action against the European Union’s legal framework.”