Today marks a year since a terrorist attack in Barcelona that saw 14 people killed and more than a hundred injured when 22-year-old Younes Aboyaaqoub drove a van at high speed down the popular Las Ramblas boulevard in the Catalan capital. There are events planned to commemorate the victims today, but they have been organized in order to try to avoid becoming politicized and to ensure that Spain’s King Felipe VI is not booed or harassed.
Supporters of independence for Catalonia from Spain are particularly hostile toward the Spanish monarchy
The government of Socialist Party (PSOE) Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, and Barcelona City Hall, headed up by Mayor Ada Colau, have worked to ensure that politicians will have a very low profile during Friday’s commemorative events, with the aim of avoiding scenes seen last year when the king was involved in moments of high tension.
Supporters of independence for Catalonia from Spain are particularly hostile toward the Spanish monarchy, and at an event toward the end of August last year to protest against the terror attacks – the atrocity in Las Ramblas was followed shortly after by another attack in Cambrils, Tarragona – both the king and then-Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy were the object of boos and whistles from demonstrators, and were surrounded by esteladas, the flag symbolizing an independent Catalonia.
Today will see the king and Queen Letizia return to the Plaza Catalunya to once again commemorate the victims of the attacks, this time accompanied by Prime Minister Sánchez, the Catalan regional premier, Quim Torra, and Mayor Ada Colau.
Over the last year, the Catalan drive for independence reached new extremes, with an illegal referendum on secession from Spain held on October 1, widespread outrage at police violence during the poll, a unilateral declaration of independence passed in the regional parliament, and the subsequent arrest of several key politicians for their role in these events. Other figures, such as former Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont, fled Spain and are still wanted for arrest by the Spanish authorities.
In contrast to last year, the ceremony will be very brief and static
For the last few weeks, the Spanish government and the Royal Household have been working with Barcelona City Hall in a bid to minimize the risk of a repeat of last year’s scenes, and ensure that today’s events are calm, solemn and focused on the victims. According to sources with knowledge of the situation, Mayor Ada Colau – a former activist turned politician – has offered total assistance, taking charge of the management of the events.
In contrast to last year, the ceremony will be very brief and static – the king and queen will not walk among the crowds. There will be no speeches from any politicians, just an address from journalist Gemma Nierga. The royals, the prime minister, and other government ministers will only appear during the ceremony behind the victims, and will arrive there directly in vehicles.
Last year saw the king and queen visit hospitals, leave flowers in Las Ramblas, and finally attend a huge demonstration in Plaza Catalunya, which was the moment of highest tension.
Even the more radical pro-independence sectors have taken decisions that will ensure a peaceful day
One of the political keys to today’s event is the fact that City Hall is in charge of the organization. The regional government – which is openly hostile toward King Felipe, and has stated that it will not invite him to any of its official ceremonies – will be present today, but has taken no part in organizing the event. The regional government will stage its own commemorative events, focused in particular on the other scenes of the terrorist atrocities, such as Cambrils.
Even the more radical pro-independence sectors have taken decisions that will ensure a peaceful day, albeit via gestures that display their distance from the Spanish king. Pro-secession civil organizations ANC and Òmnium Cultural will not be attending the main ceremony, although some of their leaders will be present. Representatives from all political parties will be there, apart from the far-left radical CUP party.
All eyes today will be on King Felipe, but the behind-the-scenes work that has been done in recent weeks, and the attitude of all – including the regional government – suggest that today’s ceremony will be much more peaceful than that seen last August.
English version by Simon Hunter.