Catalonia Day celebrations highlight divisions between separatist parties

Events were scaled back due to Covid-19 concerns but were still attended by 59,000 people, according to one estimate

Catalan premier Quim Torra (c) and regional government spokesperson Meritxell Budó on Catalonia Day.
Catalan premier Quim Torra (c) and regional government spokesperson Meritxell Budó on Catalonia Day.Albert Garcia Gallego

Coronavirus measures and political division were both on display on Friday at an unusually low-key Catalonia Day, held every September 11 to mark the anniversary of the fall of Barcelona in 1714 during the War of Spanish Succession.

Known locally as “la Diada,” the celebration has recently become a show of support for independence from Spain, with supporters turning out by the hundreds of thousands. But this year featured small-scale events instead of the mass demonstrations organized in previous years by the pro-independence civil associations Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Òmnium. Organizers had asked supporters to observe social distancing to adapt to Covid-19 regulations in force throughout the region. According to the ANC, around 59,500 people attended 131 events across Catalonia.

The coronavirus pandemic has played a major role in diminishing the crowds. Spain is in the middle of a second Covid-19 wave and the Barcelona Medical Association had asked for Diada events to be cancelled for safety reasons. The Catalan government this weekend announced a two-week extension of special measures to help contain transmission, including a ban on gatherings of more than 10 people.

Event organized by the ANC in Girona for Catalonia Day.
Event organized by the ANC in Girona for Catalonia Day.Toni Ferragut

But to judge from the rhetoric of the leaders of both ANC and Òmnium, the political division displayed by the region’s separatist parties did not help draw supporters out in the street, either. The Diada’s main event, organized jointly by both civil associations, sent the politicians of Together for Catalonia (JxCat) and Catalan Republican Left (ERC) a clear message: “Sit and talk. We are tired of tactics.”

The statement, delivered by ANC president Elisenda Paluzie, played on a slogan often used by the Catalan independence movement to ask the Madrid government for dialogue.

“No more battles or sterile debates. Don’t let yourselves get carried away by partisan interests; think about the entire country,” urged Òmnium leader Marcel Mauri, the latter a reference to the Catalonia region rather than Spain.

Both leaders also asked secessionist politicians for a timeline for achieving independence. “People’s patience is not going to last forever,” warned Paluzie.

However, no politicians showed up for the ANC event in Barcelona. Only ANC members who had previously registered online occupied the 137 chairs distributed along the four lanes of Aragón street to meet public safety regulations.

Cars drive through the streets of Lleida on Catalonia Day.
Cars drive through the streets of Lleida on Catalonia Day.Javier Martín

The ERC’s national coordinator, Pere Aragonès, said on Saturday that he understood where the criticism was coming from, and admitted that his party and JxCat, which are partners in Catalonia’s coalition government, should be on the same page on pressing issues.

One of these issues is the possibility that the Supreme Court could remove regional premier Quim Torra from office for violating electoral legislation when he refused to take down a politically charged banner from a public building in March 2019, ahead of a general election in April as well as municipal and European elections on May 26.

Meanwhile ERC and the opposition want Torra to call a regional election as soon as possible, while JxCat seems not to favor this option.

Aragonès, who is also the deputy premier of Catalonia, said that both coalition partners should negotiate a joint position on this matter. “We could not forgive ourselves, and neither could citizens, if the independence movement handled an aggression of this magnitude from a position of mutual reproach,” he said about the court challenge.

But on Friday, the only image of political unity was provided by the traditional offering of flowers at the foot of the statue of Rafael Casanova, a hero of the 1714 Siege of Barcelona.

English version by Susana Urra.

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