Spain: Catalan independence supporters form chain

A YEAR ago today, two million people joined a march in Barcelona to demand independence for Catalonia. Yesterday, hundreds of thousands defied a day of downpours to hold hands in a human chain dubbed the Via Catalana, stretching more than 250 miles from the Pyrenees in the north to the Ebro delta in the south.

Catalans independence supporters in front of the Pedrera in Barcelona. Picture: Getty
Catalans independence supporters in front of the Pedrera in Barcelona. Picture: Getty

Demonstrators in yellow T-shirts and draped in blue, red and yellow separatist banners raised their joined hands through cities and along rural roads, jumping and shouting in celebration when the chain was completed.

“We want a referendum to see whether there’s majority support for independence. The problem is Spain won’t listen. Our only hope … is that Europe and the rest of the world put pressure on the Spanish government,” said Ester Sarramona, a 39-year-old civil servant.

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The act was inspired by a similar 1989 demonstration that helped the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to win independence from the Soviet Union.

Artur Mas, the Catalan president, compared the Via Catalana to the 1960s civil rights marches in the United States.

“If 200,000 people march­ed then, Catalonia can show the world an even bigger mobilisation,” he said, speaking at the inauguration of a monument to the fall of Barcelona and the end of Catalan independence in 1714.

Mr Mas said Catalonia would “recover all of its freedoms” in the 21st century. Some, such as his coalition partners Esquerra Republicana, are insisting on a referendum on independence next year.

The huge demonstration a year ago was a watershed moment, taking the national question from the periphery to the very centre of political discourse. Indeed, it is now the only show in town, a cure-all for unemployment, low wages, poor education and corruption.

A poll published yesterday showed 52 per cent in favour of independence.

“It has been a year of radicalisation and fantasy for the independence movement,” says Merce Vilarrubias, a writer and advocate of bilingual education. “They have sought to convince everyone that independence is the solution to everything.

“They reject self-criticism or rational debate and treat intellectuals and journalists who oppose independence as fascists.”

“The problem is that the reality of Catalonia doesn’t correspond with the official version,” says Felix Ovejero, professor of economics and social sciences at the University of Barcelona. “They pin the idea of identity on language and ignore that 55 per cent of the population use Spanish as their mother tongue.

“It’s as though people of Spanish origin are only here on sufferance and have to apologise for their existence.”

Last November, Mr Mas went to the polls on the single issue of a referendum on independence in 2014. Last Thursday, he said he would only hold the referendum next year if it had Madrid’s blessing. The next day he said it would be held come what may, and the day after that it emerged that he and the Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, had held a secret meeting.

It seems increasingly likely that Mr Rajoy and Mr Mas will concoct a deal that will allow some sort of consultation to be held next year.

A majority of both Catalans and Spaniards polled believe both Mr Mas and Mr Rajoy have handled the issue badly.

“It should be simple question, independence Yes or No,” says Nuria Ruiz Soto, who joined the Via Catalana.