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La Diada: Why are Catalans marching for independence?

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La Diada: Why are Catalans marching for independence?
More than a million people turned out for La Diada in 2014. Photo: AFP
11:39 CEST+02:00
OPINION: The Local speaks to Liz Castro, a member of the Catalan National Assembly board, which organizes the mass march for independence on La Diada.

What is the march on the Diada all about?

This is a true grassroots movement. Frustrated with political infighting, Catalan citizens have taken matters into their own hands. They have organized marches, candle lightings, books, videos, bicycle rides, and massive, massive marches: more than a million people four years in a row. They insist on having their say on their own political future, and they insist on doing it democratically, peacefully, and even joyfully.

Isn’t the independence movement just a political ploy to negotiate better financial terms with Madrid?

No, It’s not just about money. Catalans really started speaking out about independence in 2006 and 2007 during the negotiations on the new Statute of Autonomy, which aimed to find a better fit within Spain. But the Spanish government not only didn’t keep its promises, but one political party brought the statute before the Constitutional Court, which stripped it of some of its most important provisions. It was then that Catalans felt that even when they made a good faith effort to fit better with Spain, under the best possible conditions, Spain wasn't following the rules. And this was two years before the financial crisis.

The independence movement has gained momentum. Is it now unstoppable?

The first demonstrations only attracted 100,000 people. But a blogger managed to organize 10,000 people to march on Brussels, which inspired another pair to organize a popular initiative to the Catalan Parliament to hold a referendum. It was voted down. Then another guy decided to have a referendum on independence in the tiny town of Arenys de Mar, population 8,000. When a Spanish judge said that question could not be asked, but that it was perfectly OK for fascists to march the same day, the press had a field day, and attracted thousands of visitors. The symbolic vote was overwhelmingly in favour of independence, but more importantly inspired 500 more popular plebiscites around Catalonia, eventually involving more than 850,000 participants and a whole cadre of volunteers. The people wanted to vote, and they weren't going to be silenced. The Catalan National Assembly is a huge organization of volunteers which grew out of this movement.


Photo: AFP

Is Catalonia really that distinct from the rest of Spain?

Catalonia has its own language, its own history, its own traditions, its own food, its own culture. It has a long democratic history. But more importantly, its people consider themselves a nation. It's not an ethnic thing -some 70 percent of Catalans have one or more parents from outside Catalonia. It's more about deciding the best way to distribute your own resources in a way that makes the most sense for your people. For example, Catalans don't want to spend €3.6 billion on high speed trains with no passengers, as Spain's 2016 budget forecasts, and only €300 million on public transportation on regional rail used by millions every day.

Catalonia is committed to being generous with its neighbors, with poorer regions in Spain, Europe, and the world, but it feels like it's being taken advantage of. While Catalonia is actually the fourth wealthiest region in Spain, after equalization, it falls to 10th. That means that lesser producing regions end up better off than Catalonia. Catalans are more likely to be audited, less likely to get a college scholarship, and more likely to have to pay road tolls. It doesn't feel fair. But mostly, Catalans just want to make their own decisions about how to govern their lives.

Is Catalonia really prepared to become independent if it means being kicked out of the European Union?

These fear tactics are used by Spain to keep Catalans from voting for independence. It seems like an unfair way to have a debate, frankly. Spain has said that Catalonia will be expelled from the EU, from the UN, from Nato, and, if you can believe it from the universe! The Spanish Foreign Minister said we'd be wandering in space! Absurd. The truth is that Spain will use this fear mongering up until the day that Catalans declare independence. And then, when it sees that Catalonia is truly leaving, it will immediately change tactics. Because it is in Spain´s interest for Catalonia to be part of the EU, and the UN, and NATO, especially considering that a huge percentage of Spanish exports have to pass through Catalonia to get to Europe. We will be great neighbours, we will remain friends, and business partners. Just like the United States and Great Britain. In the 21st century, we should salute a people that wants to solve its political differences by debating, discussing, writing articles in the paper, demonstrating, and finally, by voting. The Catalan people have a right to decide their own future. That’s how democracy works.

In the Catalan elections of 2015, the two pro-independence coalitions won a majority of the seats and have vowed to go ahead with independence. What happens now?

The official road map lays out a plan which includes three "laws of disconnection" on social security, tax collection, and transitional jurisprudence, which will lay the legal foundation and allow Catalonia to function during the transition period of separation from Spain. The Government is now deciding whether to follow up after the Transitional Jurisprudence law with a Referendum on Independence or go directly to Constituent elections, the writing of the Catalan Constitution and a Referendum on that Constitution. Although Spain has steadfastly refused to let Catalans vote on the independence question, the Catalan Government considers that it has a democratic mandate from the people to resolve the issue, one way or another, and has steadily moved the different pieces of legislation through the Parliament. President Puigdemont promised foreign dignitaries in Barcelona that they would see the birth of a new republic within months. He announced last week that he will take part in Catalonia's massive independence march this Sunday, September 11th, as will the President of the Catalan Parliament, Carme Forcadell, who is currently under criminal investigation by the Spanish Government simply for allowing a vote to go forward on the Constituent Process Study Committee recomendations. Spain, meanwhile, has been without a government since last December 20th, and unable to form one despite two general election. Their refusal to consider allowing the Catalans to hold an official referendum has kept them from winning enough votes for a majority. The massive demonstrations slated for this Sunday will continue to give support to Catalan lawmakers to complete their democratic mandate: moving forward on independence within an 18 month timeline.


Photo: Liz Castro

Liz Castro is an American-born, but Barcelona-based bestselling writer and publisher. She is currently the International Committee Chair of the Catalan National Assembly.

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