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Catalan separatists to march on national day despite divisions

Catalan separatists hold their annual march in Barcelona on Sunday, but won't be joined this year by their leader, whose support for dialogue with Madrid has divided the movement.

Catalan separatists to march on national day despite divisions
Demonstrators wave Catalan pro-independence "Estelada" flags during a protest marking the "Diada" in Barcelona on September 11, 2022. Photo: Josep LAGO/AFP

The annual “Diada” on September 11 marks the fall of Barcelona to Spain in 1714 and has traditionally drawn vast crowds.

Under the slogan, “We’re back to win: independence!” organisers hope to mark the comeback for a movement still reeling from the failed 2017 independence bid and then the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Our reliance on political parties is over, only the people and civil society can achieve independence,” said the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), an influential association which, over the past decade, transformed this once-minor anniversary into a massive annual event.

READ MORE: Why does Catalonia have its own ‘embassies’ abroad? 

But the ANC, the region’s biggest grassroots separatist movement, has been very critical of dialogue started between the Catalan government of Pere Aragones, a moderate separatist, and Madrid.

It said the “October 1 victory,” when separatists organised a 2017 independence referendum despite a ban by Madrid, and the pro-independence majority in the Catalan parliament “must not be wasted in dialogue with the Spanish state and on internal squabbles”.

This year, Aragones has decided not to attend the march.

Last year, his presence drew derisive whistles from some of the 108,000 people who turned out to demonstrate at what was one of the smallest turnouts in a decade, police figures showed.

“It wouldn’t make much sense if my presence there was used against the government I run,” he told regional public television on Wednesday, referring to his separatist coalition which groups the left-wing ERC and hardline JxC.

Aragones belongs to ERC, which favours a negotiated strategy to achieve independence via dialogue with Madrid, while JxC wants to maintain a confrontational approach.

Other ERC government members won’t attend Sunday’s march, while JxC representatives will.

A movement in crisis

Gone are the years when vast crowds would paralyse the streets of Barcelona, when the Diada drew more than a million participants in the run-up to the 2017 independence bid. 

Five years on from that frenetic autumn, when the Catalan government made a short-lived declaration of independence, triggering Spain’s worst political crisis in decades, the context is very different.

Those behind the bid were arrested, tried and sentenced to long jail terms by Spain’s top court, although they were later pardoned.

READ MORE: Spanish intelligence did spy on Catalan separatists with court approval: report

Others fled abroad to avoid prosecution, leaving the separatists sharply at odds over how to move forward.

ERC — a small player in Spain’s national parliament, but which has offered crucial support to Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s minority government — says it is fully committed to dialogue.

That hasn’t changed despite recent revelations that the Spanish intelligence service had spied on separatist politicians. But the hardliners are running out of patience, disappointed with politicians whom they see as reneging on their promises.

“We at the ANC don’t understand how the Catalan leader is happy to pose for photos with the leadership in Madrid but doesn’t want to do the same with hundreds of thousands of Catalans who want independence,” the group said.

Sunday’s march will be a delicate moment for a very weakened movement.

“The context has changed radically following the pandemic and now with the war in Ukraine,” said Ana Sofia Cardenal, a political scientist at Catalonia’s Open University, suggesting people have more immediate preoccupations.

“The mood among the people is different now, even among those who back Catalan independence,” she said. They want “the politicians to resolve the problems” that people are facing in daily life.

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SPANISH LAW

EXPLAINED: What is Spain’s anti-trafficking law?

The Spanish government has passed a draft bill that seeks to beef up the fight against human trafficking and exploitation, addressing everything from prostitution to arranged marriages and organ trafficking.

EXPLAINED: What is Spain’s anti-trafficking law?

On November 29th, Spain’s Council of Ministers approved a draft law aimed at tackling human trafficking.

The law, known as la ley de trata (or anti-trafficking law) will bolster measures against sexual exploitation, forced and arranged marriages, slavery, forced labour, organ and tissue removal, and situations where vulnerable people are forced to engage in criminal activity.

Spain’s Justice Minister, Pilar Llop, said that the law will protect “people who suffer a lot in our country and also in other countries around the world,” strengthening the fight against trafficking mafias and organised crime groups to “break the business chain that is generated using human beings as commodities.”

The law will, among other things, create a national plan for the prevention of trafficking, protection and privacy protocols, a compensation fund for victims, social, health and financial support, and increase awareness of the problem at the educational level.

A particular focus of the legislation will be on minors, migrants, asylum seekers and refugees – groups thought to be most vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking.

Prostitution in Spain

Many cases of human trafficking in Spain result in sexual exploitation, but there exists no single law that deals directly with prostitution in Spain. Prostitution was decriminalised in 1995, though its related activities, such as pimping, trafficking, and sexual exploitation are still illegal.

READ ALSO: What’s the law on prostitution in Spain?

Although the clandestine nature of the sex work makes accurate data hard to find, according to a 2011 UN report, Spain is the third biggest centre for prostitution in the world, behind only Thailand and Puerto Rico.

In 2016, UNAIDS estimated that over 70,000 prostitutes were working in Spain, but some estimates put that number as high 350,000.

It is believed that 80 percent of them are foreigners, with many reportedly coming from Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Morocco and eastern Europe.

If the draft law is finally approved, its sexual exploitation clauses would include prison sentences of up to eight years for procurers such as pimps or madams.

Customers of prostitutes that have been forced to be sexual workers could also face fines and prison sentences of between six months and four years.

The Spanish government wants prostitution banned in its current form in Spain.

Forced labour

Clearly, the ley de trata will hope to combat some of the sexual exploitation of women in Spain, but the anti-trafficking legislation is more far-reaching than that and is also intended to tackle forced labour and slavery – two big but underreported problems in Spain.

According to the U.S State Department’s 2022 report on human trafficking in Spain, “labour trafficking is under-identified in Spain. Authorities report the pandemic increased worker vulnerabilities and contributed to the rise in labour trafficking in 2020 and 2021, especially in agriculture, domestic work, and cannabis cultivation in Catalonia.”

“In 2022, Ukrainian refugees, predominantly women and children fleeing Russia’s war against Ukraine, are vulnerable to trafficking. Labour traffickers continue to exploit men and women from Eastern Europe and South and East Asia, particularly Pakistan, in the textile, construction, industrial, beauty, elder care facilities, and retail sectors.”

It should be said, however, that the report also notes that “the government of Spain fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” and kept it in its Tier 1 of nations.

What does Spain’s anti-trafficking law include?

  • National Trafficking Plan

The law will create a protocol to coordinate the immediate referral of trafficked persons to specialised services, which will be overseen by a National Rapporteur on Trafficking and Exploitation of Human Beings run through Spain’s Interior Ministry, according to the Spanish government website.

The rapporteur will oversee anti-trafficking policy and represent Spain in the international arena, a role considered crucial as human trafficking is often a cross border, international problem.

  • Education

According to Article 7 of the law, efforts will also be made to improve educational awareness of the problems of trafficking and exploitation with a focus on human rights, sexual education, and democratic values.

  • Social, labour, and health support

A ‘Social and Labour Insertion Plan’ will be created for victims of trafficking and exploitation that provides social, health and employment support for victims.

This could include housing access, physical, psychological and sexual health support, employment opportunities, and financial assistance for victims and their family members.

  • Tightening labour market regulation

As trafficked and exploited people are so often brought in from abroad (and often dependent on the traffickers themselves for housing, food, money and so on) the regulation of migrant worker recruitment will be tightened through beefed up surveillance and labour standards.

  • Compensation fund

A compensation fund – the Fund for the Compensation of Victims of Trafficking and Exploitation (FIVTE) – will also be created, and will be taken from state budgets, as well as money or goods confiscated from convicted traffickers.

  • Protection and privacy

The anti-trafficking law will also provide protection services and maintain the victim’s right to privacy, protect their identity, access to free legal advice and even offer a living income.

According to Article 36 of the bill, victims trafficked from abroad will have the right to voluntary and assisted return to their country of origin. If they were brought illegally into Spain and don’t have official documentation, the Spanish government will issue them with the appropriate papers needed for travel as well as provide them with the option of residency.

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