Divided over talks with Spain, Catalan separatists mobilize
Tens of thousands of Catalans rallied for independence from the rest of Spain in their first large mass rally since the start of the pandemic
BARCELONA, Spain – Catalan separatists held their first large mass rally on Saturday since the start of the pandemic, trying to offer a display of unity amid divisions within their ranks over upcoming talks with the Spanish government.
Tens of thousands of people waved independence flags and wore T-shirts with messages for their cause in downtown Barcelona. People used face masks for the event, which took place after regional authorities dropped restrictions on the number of people who can assemble with the drop in COVID-19 cases.
There was a brief clash when a large crowd shelled a police station with toilet paper, trash and other items before brawling with officers from the National Police. This prompted Catalan police in riot vans to enter and eliminate them.
The meeting between representatives of the Catalan and central governments has no date yet, but it should be soon. This second meeting between the two parties is supposed to advance the negotiations towards the possible search for a solution to the political crisis which has escalated since the failure of the 2017 attempt by the Catalan secessionists to force a break.
Catalan voters have for several years been roughly evenly divided on the issue of secession, with half for and half wanting to stay in Spain.
The difference of opinion within the separatist camp over the usefulness of the negotiations marked the rally on Saturday.
Catalan regional president Pere Aragonès and his party of the Republican Left of Catalonia have defended negotiations with the Spanish government.
“Catalonia is about to do something that it has never achieved before: open a negotiation with the Spanish state, government to government, to address how we resolve this conflict,” said Aragonès. “And we do this with the commitment of both parties that the result of this negotiation will be put to the vote of Catalan citizens.”
The other two main pro-secessionist parties and the movement’s main grassroots groups, however, see the negotiations at best a waste of time, and at worst a betrayal of the independence mandate they already claim to have from the illegal referendum held four times there. Most trade unionists boycotted years ago.
The Catalan National Assembly, the powerful group that organized Saturday’s rally, sees the talks as a ruse to defuse their momentum. The rally’s official slogan was “Fight and we will gain independence”.
Jordi Sànchez, Ensemble’s general secretary for Catalonia, also sees the discussions as futile.
“We are deeply skeptical about the attitude of the Spanish government and the outcome of this negotiation,” he said.
Sànchez is one of nine high-level separatists who were pardoned in June by Spain’s left-wing government led by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez for their role in instigating the failed escape attempt.