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In the name of unity

A plural Catalonia took to the streets on Sunday to show its rejection of the breakaway process

A pro-Constitution march in Madrid on Saturday.
A pro-Constitution march in Madrid on Saturday.VICTOR SAINZ (EL PAÍS)

[This editorial was first published in Spanish before Sunday’s march in Barcelona].

A return to seny, to common sense. With this premise in mind, a civic group called Societat Civil Catalana (SCC) – founded in April 2014 by figures with ties to Ciudadanos, the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) and the Popular Party (PP) – called a demonstration in Barcelona for Sunday.

This is not the first time that this association has called Catalans onto the streets, but this particular event takes on added meaning considering the recent developments surrounding the so-called procés, or breakaway process of Catalonia from Spain. And there were other significant citizen marches held on Saturday, such as a Madrid demonstration in favor of Spanish unity and various “white” marches, whose members support an urgent way out of the conflict through negotiation and a scaling-down of extremist positions. It looks like the silent majority has started to speak out.

It looks like the silent majority has started to speak out

For a long time now, the pro-independence sector has been exhibiting a great ability to incorporate sympathizers, and even not-so-sympathetic individuals, to their breakaway cause, and that is why the Catalan government has used the street in a bid to convey some legitimacy to a project that was fatally wounded when secessionist groups in the regional parliament organized a coup against legality with the approval of breakaway laws on September 6 and 8.

The Sunday initiative comes at a particularly delicate moment. The tension that’s been generated by the motley and highly mobilized pro-independence camp – orchestrated by the civic groups Assemblea Nacional Catalana and Òmnium Cultural, and cheered on by CUP radicals – has imposed a social climate in which those Catalans who do not share the goals of the secessionist project have been pushed into the “silent space” and “no man’s land” that the filmmaker Isabel Coixet recently discussed in an opinion piece in this newspaper.

Giving visibility to that silent majority, recovering a mood of dialogue and concord, reinforcing a common project for coexistence, celebrating a long-shared history between Catalans and other Spaniards – all of these goals are included in the recent marches.

Many major companies have already decided to move their headquarters out of Catalonia

Something has been shattered in the daily lives of Catalans. Those who used to march for the “right to decide” in the early days did so in a climate of peace. That atmosphere – which has since dissolved, as evidenced by Tuesday’s strike – should never have been used to push a significant section of Catalan society outside the legal framework of the regional Statute and the Constitution, using an infamous stratagem based on parallel laws to tell people to go vote in a referendum with no democratic guarantees and that had already been banned by the Constitutional Court.

The disastrous management by political officials of law enforcement officers sent by a judge to prevent a violation of the law last Sunday only added fuel to a situation that was already explosive. As usually happens in all advanced democratic societies, a large portion of Catalan citizens trusted that their institutions would work, and that the various political groups would fight their power battles within the legal framework.

The disloyalty exhibited by the regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, who had been instructed by the judiciary to halt the latest episode in the secessionist script – they removed a few ballot boxes while looking the other way at many polling stations – has also contributed to a growing concern over the deterioration of democratic guarantees in Catalonia.

If we add up all of these events, particularly those of recent weeks, it becomes easy to see why many Catalans want to visibly express their rejection of a breakaway process that is seriously damaging their institutions (on what authority will the Mossos act, if they themselves break the law?).

Above all, they want to reaffirm that plurality is an unquestionable defining trait of Catalonia, and one of its greatest assets. In such a heated atmosphere, it is important for the Sunday march to take place in a climate of normalcy – without fear, and avoiding any gestures that might stray away from the fundamental demand for concord.

In recent days, most of the arguments used by separatists to embellish their breakaway project – such as the claim that the process would not entail losses of any kind – have been crushed one by one. European institutions have made it abundantly clear that they will not accept a Catalonia that has torpedoed the Constitution of a member state; meanwhile, a large number of major companies have already decided to move their headquarters out of Catalonia ahead of a hypothetical declaration of independence.

Now, a section of the Catalan population is taking to the streets to put an end to another fallacy long claimed by the separatists: that Catalans are a single people who want to leave Spain, with a small minority that accepts this fact quietly and non-critically. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Let’s hope that these acts by concerned citizens will also serve to reinforce political unity among the parties – the kind of unity requested by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in an interview with EL PAÍS, and which both the government and the opposition parties, including Catalan parties, would do well to contribute to, either through the formula suggested by Rajoy or an altogether different one.

English version by Susana Urra.

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