Catalan National Day: Huge participation of a movement that refuses to die
Organizers said the turnout on September 11 was over 400,000 and Barcelona City Police said 108,000, but this time the usual debate over the numbers didn’t matter: the political significance of the manifestation of this year’s Catalan National Day (Diada), thermometer of the state of the independence movement, was quite clear.
The river of independence supporters that inundated central Barcelona has denied fears the Catalan movement has been fatally injured by the ongoing Spanish legal crackdown, 18 months of COVID-induced social misery and differences in strategy between them. independence parties.
These factors certainly contributed to reducing participation compared to the more than a million mobilizations that preceded the independence referendum of October 1, 2017, but participation exceeded the expectations of its main organizer, the Catalan National Assembly ( ANC).
ANC President Elisenda Paluzie had previously predicted a “six-figure” turnout, but later said that target had been “multiplied”.
Jordi Cuixart, president of the Catalan language and culture association Òmnium Cultural, which was “pardoned” by the Spanish government along with the other Catalan political prisoners in June, said: “We have shown that organized civil society continues to be alive and well. : it is a collective success, not of a particular organization.
Former ANC president and political prisoner Jordi Sànchez said: “Despite everything, people kept faith and hope, and the turnout was massive.
The sentiment most frequently expressed in attendees’ media vox pops was that they had attended, in the words of a woman quoted by the daily. Macaw, “so they don’t think we’ve gotten cold.”
Still mighty, but divided
This “they” included the Spanish coalition government of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) and Unidas Podemos (UP), but for many it also referred to the Catalan government, suspected of getting entangled in futile negotiations with the central government. (The first meeting of the “dialogue table” between the Spanish and Catalan governments took place in Barcelona on September 15.)
The ANC certainly thought so. Inviting people to attend the protest, Paluzie told Radio Catalogne: “What worries me is not so much the negotiating table, but that while we are discussing something with a very small chance of success, we are not doing what we should be doing. and we demobilize people.
In another interview, Paluzie said: “What is missing is the determination of the parties to find a way to achieve independence together as quickly as possible.”
This “lack of determination” stems from strategic differences within the independence movement, of which the controversy around the dialogue table is the latest symptom.
For the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), the leading party of the Catalan government, the table is essential to pressure the Spanish administration to authorize a referendum and declare an amnesty for the more than 3,000 pro-independence activists condemned or awaiting conviction in the Spanish judicial system. .
The fact that Madrid have conceded the table was tantamount to acknowledging that there is a specific “Catalan problem”: it would be pointless not to exploit this opening.
It follows that the unilateral approach to the 2017 referendum should only be considered again if negotiations fail and the political context changes.
As the political prisoner Carme Forcadell, former president of the ANC and later president of the ERC of the Catalan parliament, said in a radio interview on August 23: “The situation is the same as in October 2017 If we do the same thing, we will end up with the same thing. . “
Ensemble pour la Catalogne (Junts), ERC’s partner in the Catalan administration, has agreed to participate in the dialogue table as part of its government agreement. However, as Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has repeatedly ruled out both amnesty and a referendum, Junts has been more skeptical about the gains to be made from the negotiations.
In the words of Junts president Jordi Sànchez in a radio interview on August 26: “There is a great risk that the PSOE will try to exploit the dialogue table to divide the independence movement, change the orientation and the use only as a photo opportunity. We have to be very careful. “
The third pro-independence party, the Radical Popular Unity List (CUP), dismissed the dialogue table as a waste of time. He called a demonstration to coincide with the September 15 table meeting, demanding “no deals, no desertions”.
Differences in the spotlight
These differences, reflecting contradictory feelings in a movement frustrated by its retreat after the declaration of independence of the Catalan parliament on October 27, 2017, were more visible than ever at this Diada.
On September 11 itself and during the ceremony the day before at Barcelona’s Mulberry Cemetery (which honors those who died defending the city in 1714), ERC leaders such as party chairman and former political prisoner Oriol Junqueras have been booed by some opponents of the “fucking dialogue table”.
Junqueras replied, “If the prisons haven’t silenced us, the insults and threats certainly won’t. “
The traditional September 11 night demonstration of the independence left also saw photos of ERC Prime Minister Pere Aragonès burnt, as well as the usual flags of Spain and the European Union.
The position of the ERC was implicitly contested by Elisenda Paluzie in her September 11 speech. Recalling Carme Forcadell’s request on then-Prime Minister Artur Mas at the 2014 Diada (“Prime, turn off the ballot boxes!”), Paluzie called out to Pere Aragonès (who was present in the crowd): “Prime, bring it on! we independence! “
This drew enthusiastic applause, especially from those who wore the ANC’s “Fight and Win Independence” t-shirts, but not everyone.
The speaker who struck the strongest string was Cuixart. His message was that the movement strives to overcome its strategic divisions.
Cuixart said: “We must continue to pressure the parties to forge, once and for all, a common strategy. If they provide us with a shared strategy, we’ll be there because we’ve always been there. The people have never failed. Let them come to an agreement, let them discuss, but they have to come to an agreement.
At the Diada d’Òmnium Cultural event, Cuixart said: “The best self-determination proposition is the one we create among all of us. This is the only way we will win.
A difference with deep roots
Cuixart’s repeated call for parties to strive to overcome their differences is certainly popular with grassroots separatists, yearning for an end to battles they sometimes don’t understand or disconnect from.
However, the differences in the movement, and in particular between the Junts and the ERC, have deep roots in contrasting assessments of the October 1 referendum.
For Junts, this is a real plebiscite which has truly registered Catalan public opinion. For the ERC, it was marred by the boycott of most Unionist voters and the failure to obtain international recognition, regardless of the heroic popular mobilization which saw the referendum prevail against Spanish police violence.
Different strategic priorities result from these readings: for Junts the objective is to “start over, but better”, while for the ERC the objective is to broaden support for independence while increasing pressure on the government. PSOE-UP to the point that he is forced to accept a Scottish plebiscite.
In the more active part of the movement – those who would probably have formed the majority on September 11 – the main motivation is to “complete the term of October 1”, making many allergic to the ERC’s arguments about the need to expand it. social support for independence. before facing Madrid again.
This reaction, which in its most extreme form sees members of the ERC described as “traitors”, probably contributed to Oriol Junqueras’ words at the ERC Diada event: “Our proposal is the best and we are not at all afraid to test it. out “and” be proud of who you are, who we are, the most persecuted party in the history of the country. “
The dialogue table meets … without Junts
The euphoria of September 11 lasted only three days. On September 14, Junts announced that his part of the Catalan delegation to the dialogue table would include a single cabinet member, Deputy Prime Minister Jordi Puigneró. The other three members are said to be a deputy for Junts in the Spanish Congress and the former political prisoners Jordi Turull and Jordi Sànchez.
Prime Minister Aragonès immediately decided that he would not accept the three in a delegation for what everyone saw as a government-to-government meeting. Junts refused to change delegation. Thus, when the dialogue table met on September 15, the Catalan party was represented by only three ministers of the CER.
Prime Minister Sánchez said he was satisfied with the result.
[Dick Nichols is Green Left’s European correspondent, based in Barcelona.]