Catalans to take to streets today over independence poll

The Spanish state has deemed a type of ‘referendum’ to be illegal

In the Born Cultural Centre, history is presented as a violent drama whose heroes and villains are painted in broad strokes. A huge, glass-ceilinged hangar, it was built around the excavated ruins of a market that stood on this spot when Barcelona was besieged in 1714 during the War of Succession.

The cultural centre offers visitors information about that historical market but, more prominently, it presents a robust version of the story of Catalonia's relationship with Spain.

Examples of the uniforms worn by the Catalan soldiers who defended Barcelona from the Spanish-backed Bourbon forces are on display: audiovisuals recreate the siege, and an accompanying text tells of how Catalans were “terrorised” by the invaders. “Philip V [of Spain] imposed his tyranny with the laws and institutions of Castile”, reads one information board.

Jordi Benet, a local retired bank employee, has come to the centre for a third time, drawn by the impressive ruins on display, but also by what he believes the Born represents. “This place is an icon of Catalan independence,” he says. “I want us to break away definitively from Spain, which is a country that oppresses us, harms us and steals from us.”


It’s no surprise to hear such opinions from those visiting the Born centre, which has become the closest thing there is to a museum of Catalan nationalism. The building is the hub of many events organised to celebrate today’s Diada, or Catalan national day, which marks the anniversary of the defeat of 1714.

The September 11th Diada has taken on increasingly political, pro-independence overtones in recent years. Given its 300th anniversary this year and the fact separatists have planned a non-binding referendum on secession from Spain for November 9th, today’s event has enormous significance for Catalan nationalists.

Illegal poll

Hundreds of thousands of Catalans are expected to take to the streets of Barcelona to demand that the November referendum, which the regional government has scheduled but the Spanish government deems illegal, should go ahead.

Carme Forcadell is president of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), a civic organisation campaigning for the referendum to take place. History is important to the ANC, to the extent that the phone number of its main office ends with the digits "1714".

“The Spanish state is not our state, it doesn’t want to be,” she says. “For 300 years it’s had the opportunity to be our state but it hasn’t wanted to do that. The Spanish state, instead of seeing the cultural, linguistic and national diversity of Spain as a good thing, sees it as a problem.” She also highlights the fact that November 9th will mark 25 years since the Berlin Wall’s destruction. For her, the comparison is valid, because both mean the liberation of millions of people from oppression.

However, those who want Catalonia to remain part of Spain have a very different view of history. Historians and intellectuals outside Catalonia have been busy in recent days insisting that the siege of Barcelona was a less black-and-white affair than nationalists might admit, with Catalans divided during it.

The Born centre itself is a “pro-independence Disneyland” full of half-truths and myths, according to Josep Ramon Bosch, president of Catalan Civil Society, which brings together politicians and public figures of different stripes who oppose independence and the referendum.

As Barcelona was preparing for today’s series of pro-independence events, Bosch and a small group of fellow unionists were staging their own ceremony a few miles away. They gathered yesterday morning in a church in Sant Boi de Llobregat where 18th-century Catalan patriot Rafael Casanova is buried.

Descendents of both Casanova and those who fought against him were present, laying a wreath in the colours of the regional flag at his grave in a gesture of union that Bosch feels is more necessary than ever right now.

‘Propaganda’ drive

“In Catalonia in recent years, there’s been a lot of propaganda claiming that we’ve been subjugated by the Spanish monarchy, when that’s not true,” he said. “Because we Catalans built Spain together with our Castilian brothers and sisters.”

It is still far from clear whether the November referendum will go ahead. But the small turnout for the unionist tribute to Casanova compared to the massive attendance expected for today’s pro-independence events reflects how Catalan separatism seems to be dominating the debate – historical and otherwise – in the region’s public sphere.