Catalans awoke on Friday to a Diada, or Catalonia Day, that pro-independence supporters are hoping will be the prelude to a whole new chapter in the history of the northeastern region.
This year, the annual September 11 celebrations, which include a major pro-independence demonstration in the afternoon on Barcelona’s Meridiana Avenue, coincide with the beginning of the campaign for regional elections, due to be held on September 27.
Mas has described Friday’s planned march as the “most noteworthy” act of the entire Diada
But these elections are unlike any past legislative ballots: regional premier Artur Mas is casting them as a popular plebiscite that could lead to a unilateral declaration of independence if his secessionist Junts pel Sí bloc wins an absolute majority – and the latest polls suggest that it might, if only by a thread.
On Thursday, just three hours before the campaign kicked off, Mas used his Diada address on regional television station TV-3 to repeat the plebiscitary nature of the September 27 vote, a view that Madrid rejects as illegal.
The Catalan premier, of the nationalist Democratic Convergence of Catalonia (CDC) party, underscored his view that Spain was forcing him to do things this way after an earlier attempt at an independence referendum last year ran afoul of the courts.
The battle of the slogans
Political parties in Catalonia have designed campaigns that treat the upcoming elections as a de facto plebiscite on independence. This is clearly reflected in their campaign slogans.
Junts Pel Sí is drawing on what it sees as the epic nature of these elections, calling it "the vote of your life."
Meanwhile, the Democratic Union of Catalonia – until recently regional premier Mas's partner in government as the CiU – has coined the slogan "The strength of common sense," while the Catalan Socialists are working "For a better Catalonia within a different Spain."
The conservative Popular Party alludes to the fight against secessionism with its "United we win, let's make a stand," while Ciudadanos has taken a more inclusive approach with "A new Catalonia for everyone."
Catalunya sí que es Pot says it wants "The Catalonia of the people" and CUP is proposing the more combative "September 27: let's break away and rule ourselves. Independence and constituent process."
“It has been my will, from the beginning, to find the best way for the people to clearly and unequivocally manifest their desire regarding our political future,” he said. “The state institutions did not want to make this possible. All that is left is the only tool that they cannot prohibit: elections to the Catalan parliament.”
Mas also urged citizens to “accept the majority decision” and hoped that “concord and the desire to be a single nation will guide Catalans” from September 28 onward.
But his words served to underscore the growing lack of agreement in the region over the issue of independence. In June of this year, the nationalist coalition that had ruled Catalonia for 37 years, Convergence and Union (CiU), broke up because of disagreement over the secession issue.
Meanwhile, Catalonia’s business sector is increasingly concerned about the impact that independence could have on the economy. On Wednesday, a group of entrepreneurs and liberal professionals who were once CiU voters presented a new citizen group called Catalans Pel Seny (or, Catalans for common sense), which advocates political dialogue to gain further self-rule for the region while avoiding outright secession.
The division will be evident during Friday’s celebrations. A number of notable absences are expected at Friday’s pro-independence demonstration on Meridiana Avenue, which Mas has nevertheless already described as the “most noteworthy” act of the entire Diada.
Lately, it has become increasingly difficult to find a single public event where representatives of the entire Catalan political spectrum are present.
At the first Diada-related events held on Wednesday, the conservative Popular Party (PP) and Ciudadanos – a non-nationalist party which polls show coming in second in the elections – were conspicuously absent. But so were members of the leftist, pro-independence CUP, which holds more radical views than Junts Pel Sí.
Meanwhile, another leftist coalition, Catalunya Sí es que Pot, has been highly critical of Mas and his CDC party over allegations of corruption. The latter party is the target of a wide-reaching probe into three percent commissions allegedly paid by companies bidding to secure regional government contracts.
English version by Susana Urra.