Independence day in Catalonia as secession moves closer

The Catalan national day is dominated by four-year long drive to break away from Madrid

Hundreds of thousands of Catalans will take to the streets on Sunday to mark their annual national day and demand independence from Spain.

Although the celebration, known as La Diada, has been politically charged in recent years, this time it takes place with the process of secession already technically under way.

Participants will gather in five towns and cities – Lleida, Berga, Salt, Tarragona and Barcelona – and a series of commemorative events will culminate in their raising their fists in unison in each location to demand an independent republic.

"No country, no social movement, no cause has [ever waged a campaign] over such a long period of time, with such intensity, with so many thousands of people in the streets," said Jordi Sánchez, president of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), which is organising La Diada, along with fellow grassroots group Òmnium Cultural.


The current drive for independence began in 2012, when Madrid refused to discuss increased economic autonomy for the northeastern region. Many Catalans feel too much of their tax money is invested in other parts of the country and that the Spanish state is unsympathetic to their culture and language.

But while La Diada, which marks the defeat of Catalan troops to Bourbon-backed forces in 1714, seeks to reflect popular support for independence, the implementation of the breakaway is taking place in the regional parliament.

In July, the Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes) coalition that governs Catalonia and the anti-capitalist Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) defied the Spanish judiciary by approving a blueprint for secession, a move seen as the first step towards independence.

Regional elections

In the face of the Spanish government’s refusal to allow a Scotland-style referendum, separatists treated a regional election last year as a vote on the issue. Junts pel Sí and CUP won a majority of seats in the Catalan parliament, giving them, they claimed, a mandate to move towards independence, despite the fact they fell short of a majority of the popular vote.

The separatist parties plan to approve laws laying the foundations for an independent state over the coming months, before holding a referendum on a Catalan constitution and declaring independence, possibly as soon as 2017.

But Inés Arrimadas, leader in Catalonia of the unionist Ciudadanos party, said the annual demonstrations had left people "exhausted" with La Diada and that support for it was slipping. The number registered to take part has been lower than last year, although organisers say they expect a last-minute spike.

Ciudadanos says separatists have hijacked La Diada and the party is going to stage its own event in the own of Premià de Mar, which Arrimadas has described as "festive, open to everyone and without focusing on a cause, as others do".

The leftist Podemos, meanwhile, takes the middle ground, backing an independence referendum, but advocating the unity of Spain. Barcelona mayor Ada Colau, whose coalition includes the support of Podemos, will take part in the pro-independence demonstration, although she has been ambivalent on the issue in the past.

Meanwhile, a July poll by the Catalan government’s Centre for the Study of Opinion (CEO) has heartened separatists, showing 48 per cent of people in the region favour independence, against 42 per cent who do not – the first time the former has surpassed the latter.

Recent tensions

The poll suggests Catalans have not been overly bothered by recent tensions within the pro-independence camp, which saw CUP threaten to veto the region’s 2017 budget.

Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont, who in an unusual move will take part in the La Diada demonstration, has called a confidence vote in the Catalan parliament for September 28th in a bid to ensure CUP's support for him and his Junts pel Sí coalition. Recent comments by CUP leaders suggest they will back him, keeping the secessionist roadmap on track, while apparently shelving a plan to push ahead with a unilateral referendum on independence.

With only an acting government in place in Madrid since December, the most strident resistance to the independence drive is coming from the courts. The constitutional court is considering whether to open legal proceedings against the president of the Catalan parliament, Carme Forcadell, for allowing the independence roadmap to be voted on in the chamber.