Catalan town declares itself independent from Spain

Bàscara hands out new passports and currency to locals

A small town in Catalonia has declared itself “liberated” from Spanish control as activists say they are beginning a new strategy of confrontation with the state to gain independence for their region.

On Saturday in Bàscara, in the northeastern region, activists set up informal checkpoints at the entrances to the town, which has a population of 1,000, to mark its supposed border with Spain. The checkpoints were manned by locals who waved the Estelada secessionist flag and handed out home-made Catalan passports to those entering the town. They also gave out an invented new currency called the "cat" to locals. One painted slogan on a wall at the entrance to the town said: "You are entering liberated territory."

In a statement a group called Civil Disobedience Catalonia said Bàscara was now “automatically under control of the Catalan republic” and “no longer subject to Spanish law”.

It also said that the “occupying forces”, an apparent reference to the police, would be expelled from the town and barred from entering it.

The statement harked back to a failed Catalan bid for independence in 2017, adding that the intention was to “exercise effective control of the territory through civil disobedience and deploy a new strategy against the occupier that will lead to the final attack on the state”.

On Monday Narcís Saurina, the mayor, said the town was back to normal.

“It was a symbolic act,” he told The Irish Times by phone. “I understand that it’s the first of a number of such acts that will take place in different towns.”

He added that it marked “an attempt to start over” for the independence movement.

‘The latest farce’

Anti-independence activists dismantled the checkpoints and defaced some secessionist slogans painted on walls within hours of Saturday’s declaration, underlining how divisive the Catalan sovereignty issue remains.

A unionist news site called El catalán described the weekend’s events as “the latest farce” by an independence movement “which has never had a sense of its own ridiculousness”.

Mr Saurina is a member of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), the leading party in the region’s coalition government, which has been advocating a gradualist approach to independence by engaging with Madrid instead of continuing the unilateral approach of five years ago.

However, in recent weeks relations between the Spanish government of Socialist Pedro Sánchez and the Catalan administration have deteriorated due to allegations that more than 60 pro-independence figures had their phones hacked and spied on. Catalan president Pere Aragonès has demanded an in-depth investigation and resignations of those responsible.

Last week the head of the CNI intelligence service, Paz Esteban, was reported as having told a parliamentary committee that her agency had spied on 18 individuals linked to the Catalan independence movement.

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Spain