The National Day of Catalonia has been a largely peaceful and patriotic event since 1980. Last Tuesday, however, the gathering took a nationalist turn, with 1.5 million people marching in favor of the northeastern region becoming completely independent of Spain.
While there have always been nationalist elements during the Diada celebrations (Spanish flag and royal portrait burning is something of a tradition), the majority of Catalans have preferred to see themselves as a proud part of a socially diverse Spain than pick up arms and fight for secession. In the same way that Texan Ol’ Boys can be proud of BBQ and codeine syrup, and the Welsh celebrate whatever they are proud of in Wales, Catalans were justly clebrating their language, art, and culture, without feeling it necessary to blow shit up or kidnap politicians to make a point. (Catalonia did actually have a shortlived terrorist group in the 70s, but they were laughably inefficient. Of the five deaths their bombs were responsible for, four were their own members.)
Even though yesterday’s turnout doesn’t necessarily herald the start of a fresh bombing campaign, it’s clear that attitudes within Catalonia towards Spanish rule have altered drastically. “Make no mistake about the character of this march,” said a spokeswoman from the National Assembly of Catalonia [ANC] in the days beforehand. “Everybody attending will be counted as pro-independence.” So what’s changed?
The main complaint has to do with the status of "L’estatut," the charter that defines the relationship between Spain and Catalonia. Although Catalonia has certain autonomy over its civil service (the police force and education, mainly), the current estatut dates from 1979. You weren’t born then.
Despite an updated version being approved by parliament in 2006, its implementation has been held up by conservative figures in the government and law courts, who have found certain elements within it—particularly those that relate to the manner and degree with which Catalonia’s income is administered—"unconstitutional." Understandably, seven years without a clear answer on this feels like a massive fuck-off to most Catalans.
Because you can’t fart in Spain these days without it having something to do with the crisis (due to those dumpster-dived steaks, probably), the current economic climate has exacerbated the conflict. Despite having the highest GDP in Spain, Catalonia recently had to accept a bailout from the European Union. This might be putting them at a disadvantage when it comes to future negotiations, but it really shouldn’t affect legislation nominally passed in 2006. The call to independence is further amplified by the general opinion that if the entire country is in the shit, Catalonia shouldn’t have to pay more than its fair share to dig it out.
Which brings us to Tuesday. A street protest with more flags than any place since the Nuremberg rallies or the Olympic athletes' victory parade, anti-Spanish chanting, folk songs, and fucking drum circles. But also kids getting drunk, grandmas with flags tied to their wheelchairs, metal kids throwing devil horns and those mid-1980s hardcore kids who, if Catalonia is ever made independent, should be declared a national treasure.
At times, the heaviness of the symbolism was a bit overbearing. Seeing flag-clad inebriated people wheel out of the darkness after the end of the demonstration made me remember all the things I hate about nationalism. As much as a "fuck you" to authority is all well and good, seeing such an extreme shift in opinions made me worry about the tipping point, and what could happen if the government chooses not to listen to the people of Catalonia.
Around sunset, Gran Via was a sea of waving flags. This was the tail end of the demo, but there were still people pouring in from the side streets, making movement next to impossible. From the center of the road a cheer rippled outwards as a casteller went up. With the light from the setting sun casting directly down the street, the last kid scaled up to the top and unfurled the estelada [the Catalan flag].
Immediately the tone of the chanting changed to a happy, respectful applause. Here was a crowd, not baying in favor of an ideology, but being rightly proud of something that made them unique. And as long as that remains the case, then I’m happy to be counted as one of them.
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