Protesters call for Catalan autonomy and reject ruling


MORE THAN a million people marched through the centre of Barcelona this weekend calling for greater autonomy for Catalonia and protesting against a Spanish constitutional court ruling which deemed parts of the Catalan autonomy statute to be “unconstitutional”.

The statute was approved overwhelmingly in a referendum in 2006. It granted the Catalans a very wide degree of autonomy, including their own government, parliament, language, education and judicial system.

The conservative opposition Popular Party (PP), which sees the statute as a threat to Spanish unity, appealed to the court almost four years ago.

Although Saturday’s demonstration calling for greater autonomy had been planned for several months, it was given added impetus coming less than 24 hours after the court upheld many of PP’s contentions that parts of the statute were unconstitutional.

The leaders of the march, which included Jose Montilla, president of the Catalan government and a Catalan socialist whose stance on the statute has brought him into direct conflict with José Luís Rodriguez Zapatero’s Socialist government in Madrid.

Mr Montilla and leaders of all political parties, with the exception of the PP, carried a 250sq m red-and-yellow striped senyera (Catalan flag) and a banner declaring “We are a nation. We will decide.”

This was in direct protest at one of the most controversial paragraphs in the court ruling, which declared that the description a “Catalan nation” had no legal standing since it was “incompatible and contradictory” with the “unity and indivisibility of the Spanish nation”.

They ruled that it was a merely symbolic concept, like other symbols such as the senyera and the Catalan anthem Els Segadors (the Reapers). The court also ruled that the Spanish language must have equal status with Catalan – which at the moment takes precedence in the workplace, schools and universities.

Saturday’s march took place in the context of widespread excitement over Spain’s progression into the World Cup final, an enthusiasm which annoys many nationalists and separatists.

Spanish coach Vicente del Bosque told a news conference on Saturday that he hoped the harmonious relationship between his players and their emphasis on teamwork would inspire similar feelings back home.

But not all Spaniards agree. “If it were up to me, I’d have Netherlands beat Spain 30-0,” said Inaki Atxutegi, a 40-year-old economist from the Basque port of Bilbao. – (Additional reporting, Reuters)