Debate on the Catalan Protests
Spanish King Felipe VI visited Barcelona to hand out royal awards but instead came under fire from pro-Catalan independence supporters
On Oct. 14, some 25,000 Catalans gathered there to protest the verdict of the Spanish Supreme Court which had sentenced Catalan separatist leaders for an independence referendum they organized in 2017. The Spanish authorities declared it illegitimate.
Former Catalan separatist leaders were put on trial for the misappropriation of funds and former Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras was sentenced to 13 years in prison. He was accused of crimes ranging from rebellion and sedition to misuse of public funds. Another eight defendants were also sentenced. Three others were given fines. According to data provided by the police, the day the Supreme Court read out the verdict, more than 525,000 people took to the streets of Barcelona. Activists themselves talk about 750,000 people.
“So people going out from different villages and towns in Catalonia and arriving in Barcelona after three days walking, twenty kilometers and at the end, all marchers merged in Barcelona – I think it was last Friday – and there was again a very big demonstration. There was again a general strike also with a lot of people following and there were also some protests, for example, at the airport – it was blocked. Like 100 flights were canceled because people were sitting in front of the airport in the street, not inside and then afterward also inside. There’s been also protests in front of some police stations. Protests have been more conflictive I would say – which we do not support so much because we do not think this is the way,” said Elena Jimenez, a representative of the Omnium Cultural organization.
The Omnium Cultural organization was created in the 1960s to popularize the region’s distinct culture and the Catalan language, which was banned at the time. The organization held its first peaceful rally in 2010, at a time when the Constitutional Court of Spain did not recognize the Charter on the autonomy of Catalonia. Over a period of seven years, the organization gathered supporters for the independence of the region. Their leader, Jordi Cuixart was sentenced to nine years in prison.
“The only thing he was doing was leading a peaceful demonstration,” Jimenez said. “(He would say) ‘Please if you see anyone who would use the violence, put him away and take out of the demonstration because we have to remain always peaceful and so on.’ So he’s accused of sedition because this demonstration was very big. The right to peaceful assembly, the right to protest, this is a fundamental right. And this is not only us saying this. This has been the working group of the United Nations…It’s been Amnesty International, Frontline Defenders, so it’s not only us saying that he was exercising his fundamental rights.”
It has been two years since Catalonia voted for its independence from Spain. The vote itself was declared illegal. However many supporters of Catalan independence are hoping for a new referendum.
“What we are pushing for is having the right to decide. And then yes there would be a campaign where the ones that are for the independence and the ones that are for remaining in Spain would put on the table the different reasons,” Jimenez said.
Ramon Riera is a supporter of the unity of Spain. The young politician is a member of the New Generations of the People’s Party. He says – the fate of the country was repeatedly decided by referendum. In particular, the decision of Spain to join NATO. But he argues that authorities at the local level did not have the right to make a decision on the possible secession of Catalonia from Spain. This is due to internal contradictions within the Constitution. In addition, in the event of secession, the region will no longer be a part of the European Union.
“So at this point, once you are out of the European Union, you will have to apply for membership of the European Union. There are several problems if Catalonia applies for the European Union. First of all, any country, any member of the European Union has a veto, so if Spain says ‘No, you’re not a member of the EU,’ and most likely France too, France says, “No, you are an independent country who’s got independence from Spain and you are not a member of the EU’ then Catalonia would be rejected from the application. But also, if nobody vetoes Catalonia, Catalonia would have to apply with a lot of economic and monetary requirements which actually, if Catalonia gets independent, probably won’t comply with – and the application is so long. I mean there are countries that have been applying for more than 20 years, such as Turkey. So, I mean, it’s not an easy process and what will happen during all those 20 years? It’s going to be like winter, for the economic region,” Riera said.
The conflict within Catalonia has affected family relations negatively and made the region less attractive to tourists.
“Do you think that tourism, with Barcelona with a fire, do you think they are going to go here? And the tourism is the main part of our economy. So please, stop that,” Catalan Civil Society Youth Leader David Paredes said.
On Oct. 27, some 80,000 people supporting Spain’s unity gathered on the streets of Barcelona. During October, their support reached a record level of 48 percent but has since dropped to 44 percent, while 48 percent of Catalans currently support Catalan independence.