The massive turnout in support of independence at Wednesday’s Catalan national day could not be overlooked in Madrid. Some members of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Cabinet expressed their concern about the implications that such an enormous gathering could have while they try to deal with Catalonia’s call to hold a referendum.
“I would be deceiving you if I didn’t tell you that this has caused me great concern and sadness,” Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo said at a news conference with his Portuguese counterpart, Rui Machete.
He acknowledged that the call for hundreds of people to form a human chain by holding hands over a 480-kilometer stretch from the French border to the south of Tarragona was “a success” in the way it was “organized, its logistics and communication.”
In his view, García-Margallo said that there was a need “to investigate” why a great sector of Catalonia doesn’t want to remain within Spain. “I understand, but I do not share their dissatisfaction,” he said, adding that a “very painful amputation,” i.e. secession, would cause great sadness for the rest of the country.
For her part, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenza de Santamaría said that it was the government’s obligation “to listen” to the people and safeguard the freedoms and rights of all citizens, including “the silent majority.”
She repeated the words used earlier by Interior Minister Jorge Fernández during a morning television interview show, saying that “a large silent majority didn’t come out to form the human chain.”
I would be deceiving you if I didn’t tell you that this has caused me great concern and sadness ”
Catalan government spokesman Fransesc Homs said that the central government should not minimize the turnout’s success. “If there is a debate on where the majority of those in Catalonia are, well then, Mrs Deputy Prime Minister, it is very simple: We want to vote. That is the way we can put aside all doubts and we will accept the outcome,” Homs told reporters at the Catalan Book Fair.
Sáenza de Santamaría said that a dialogue between the central and Catalan government over a referendum or plebiscite “within the framework of the Constitution” was vital but the more pressing issues are “creating jobs and improving the social welfare” for the people.
The demonstration on Catalan national day, known as the Diada, was aimed to draw international attention to the independence movement. And it did. The event was carried across the globe by major news outlets. It was also preceded by an opinion piece written by regional premier Artur Mas that appeared Wednesday in The New York Times, making the argument why Spain should allow Catalans to hold their status vote.
“We also seek no harm to Spain,” Mas wrote. “It goes beyond money or cultural differences. We seek the right to have more control over our economy, our politics, our social services.”
In Brussels, European Commission (EC) spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde declined to comment on what she called “a purely national” event.
“It is not up to the European Commission to issue comment over a specific event that takes place in one of its member states. It was purely a national event and we have nothing to say,” Ahrenkilde said.
While Wednesday’s observance was peaceful in Catalonia, a group of rightwing protestors gatecrashed the Blanquerna bookstore in Madrid, where the headquarters of the region’s delegation is located, and disrupted the local festivities. Witnesses told EFE news agency that they began knocking off books from the shelves and got into a scuffle with several people in attendance before they threw pepper spray on the gathering.
“Don’t deceive us — Catalonia belongs to Spain,” several of the protestors shouted. Police on Wednesday arrested six people, including a woman, on charges of disorderly conduct, causing damage, and violating fundamental human rights. The investigation is still open and the police expect to arrest more suspects.
Among those in attendance were politicians from the Basque National Party (PNV), Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) and Catalan nationalist CiU bloc.
Several of those arrested have prior police records while others are members of known extreme rightwing groups, police said. The arrest took place in Ajalvir, Móstoles and in the capital.
At least five people were injured in the melee — three were taken to a local hospital.