Catalonia’s national day taken over by political agenda
Catalan nationalists use the Diada to campaign for independence
The Catalan flag on the facade of the Palau de la Generalitat in Barcelona during a ceremony to mark national day. Photograph: Gustau Nacarino/Reuters
September 11th is a date Roger Molinas has come to dread. It is when Catalans mark their national day, the Diada, and traditionally it has been an annual celebration of their culture. But in recent years it has gained an overtly political dimension, becoming an opportunity for nationalists to voice their desire for independence from Spain.
“I find it embarrassing, to be honest, to see so many people going crazy,” says Molinas, who opposes independence. “They get together and talk about the ‘soul of the nation’ as if they were a herd of sheep,” says the 33-year-old archaeologist from the Catalan town of Hospitalet.
A series of nationalist-themed events are organised each year around the Diada. On Wednesday, a lavish son et lumière spectacle took place in central Barcelona, with an orchestra, a choir, dancers and a romanticised telling of Catalan history projected on to the façade of the Catalan regional government building.
After a stirring rendition of the Catalan anthem, Els Segadors, members of the audience shouted pro-independence chants.
In the centrepiece of this year’s celebrations, thousands of Catalans will today fill a main street running through Barcelona to express their opposition to being part of Spain.
“I feel like I’m in a minority,” says Molinas, who won’t attend. “Actually, most people aren’t taking part, but they’re a silent majority. They don’t speak out or do anything.”
Molinas speaks out, using a provocative blog and a Twitter account, under the pseudonym Arqueòleg Glamurós. He uses both to attack what he says are the historical, economic and political myths that underpin the independence camp’s arguments.
His straggly hair and scruffy clothes make him an unlikely crusader for Spanish territorial union, but Molinas has more than 5,000 Twitter followers and says he is frequently harassed by pro-independence social-media “trolls” and has had to block about 1,000 of them.
The regional premier, Artur Mas, is using the vote as a plebiscite on independence. He has joined forces with other political and civic separatist groups on a united electoral ticket, Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes) and if they win more than half of the seats in the Catalan parliament, they plan to begin a unilateral secession process, despite the opposition of the Spanish government.
“I used to be very nationalist myself,” says Molinas, whose family are in favour of independence. “But when I was 16 I went to Brazil as part of a charity project, and when I saw the situation the poor kids were in there, I said to myself: ‘This is a real problem – it’s nothing like our situation.’ ”
His politics are now stridently leftist and in this election he is supporting Catalunya Sí que es Pot (or Catalonia Yes We Can), a regional coalition backed by the anti-austerity party Podemos, which supports increased autonomy but not independence for Catalans.
The growing tensions between separatists and unionists have been evident in the political sphere, as well as among online provocateurs.
On Tuesday, Spain’s defence minister Pedro Morenés sparked an angry backlash from the pro-independence camp and drew a reprimand from several Eurodeputies when he told an interviewer the army would not be required to intervene in Catalonia “if everyone carries out their duty”.
In addition, Mas’s nationalist Convergence party faces allegations of systemic corruption, which its says are politically engineered.
“One side and then the other adds fuel to the fire, creating one idea of Spain and another of Catalonia and in the end we all get burned,” says Josep Antoni Duran Lleida of the moderate nationalist Union party, summing up the polarised atmosphere.
Many separatists claim they have long been used to the hostility. “Those of us who want independence through democratic and legal means via the vote receive threats and every kind of insult,” says Eduardo Reyes, president of Súmate, an organisation of nationalists with family roots outside Catalonia.
“All the politicians in the rest of Spain do is spread fear, so that we end up not wanting to be part of the country,” he says.
And yet, amid the social media acrimony and political war of words, for many Catalans, today will be a celebration.
“This year the Diada is very special because it’s the stepping stone towards the day when Catalonia votes on the country we want to create,” says Reyes.