Spain: 1 million people march in Barcelona for independence
Police in Barcelona said roughly one million people have taken to the streets for the region's "Diada" day. Catalan separatists are hoping to build momentum for a new independence bid after last year's failed attempt.
About one million people took to the streets of Barcelona to demand Catalan independence from Madrid on Tuesday, marking the region's "Diada" anniversary when Barcelona fell to Spain in 1714.
The wealthy northeastern region is split roughly down the middle on independence from Spain, according to a July poll by the regional government's official public opinion center.
- Since 2012, Catalan separatists have used September 11 as a day to rally support for their cause.
- The Tuesday rally marks the first of its kind since last year's controversial independence referendum on October 1.
- Organizers said they wanted to bring momentum to the separatist movement and push for the release of "political prisoners:" Catalan politicians who were arrested for their involvement in the illegal referendum.
- Some have criticized separatists for repurposing the holiday, arguing they have transformed it into an exclusive event for the independence cause.
Catalonia has been settled by the Phoenicians, the Etruscans and the Greeks, who were mainly in the coastal areas of Rosas and Empuries (above). Then came the Romans, who built more settlements and infrastructure. Catalonia remained a part of the Roman Empire until it was conquered by the Visigoths in the fifth century.
Catalonia was conquered by Arabs in 711 AD. The Frankish king Charlemagne stopped their advance at Tours on the Loire River and, by 759, the north of Catalonia was once again Christian. In 1137, the counties that made up Catalonia entered an alliance with the Crown of Aragon.
In the 13th century, the institutions of Catalan self-administration were created under the banner of the Generalitat de Catalunya. After the unification of the Crown of Aragon with that of Castile in 1476, Aragon was largely able to keep its autonomic institutions. However, the Catalan revolt — from 1640 to 1659 — saw parts of Catalonia ceded to present-day France.
After the conquest of Barcelona on September 11, 1714, by the Bourbon King Phillip V, Catalan instuitutions were dissolved and self-administration came to an end. Every year, on September 11, Catalans commemorate the end of their right to autonomy.
After the abdication of King Amadeo I of Spain, the first Spanish Republic was declared in February 1873. It lasted barely a year. The supporters of the Republic were split – one group supporting the idea of a centralized republic, the others wanting a federal system. Pictured here is Francisco Pi i Maragall, a supporter of federalism and one of five presidents of the short-lived republic.
Catalonia sought to establish a new state within the Spanish republic, but this only served to exacerbate the differences between republicans, ultimately dividing and weakening them. In 1874, the monarchy and the House of Bourbon (led by King Alfonso XII, pictured here) took the helm.
Between 1923 — with the support of the monarchy, the army and the church — General Primo de Rivera declared a dictatorship. Catalonia became a center of opposition and resistance. After the end of the dictatorship, the politician Francesc Macia (pictured here) successfully pressed for important rights of autonomy for Catalonia.
In the Second Spanish Republic, Catalan lawmakers worked on the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia. This was approved by the Spanish parliament in 1932. Francesc Macia was elected president of the Generalitat of Catalonia by the Catalan parliament. However, the victory of Franco at the end of the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939) put an end to all that.
The Franco regime ruled with an iron rod. Political parties were banned and the Catalan language and culture were surpressed.
After the first parliamentary elections that followed the end of the Franco dictatorship, the Generalitat of Catalonia was provisionally restored. Under the democratic Spanish constitution of 1978, Catalonia was given a new Statute of Autonomy just a year later.
The new Statute of Autonomy recognized the autonomy of Catalonia and the importance of the Catalan language. In comparison to the 1932 statute, it was enhanced in the fields of culture and education but curtailed when it came to the realm of justice. Pictured here is Jordi Pujol, the long-time head of the government of Catalonia after the dictatorship.
A desire for independence has grown stronger in recent years. In 2006, Catalonia was given a new statute that broadened the Catalan government's powers. However, it lost these after a complaint by the conservative Popular Party to the Constitutional Court of Spain.
A referendum on independence was already envisaged for November 9, 2014. The first question was "Do you want Catalonia to become a state?" In the case of an affirmative answer, the second question was posed: "Do you want this state to be independent?" However, the Constitutional Court suspended the vote.
Since January 2016, Carles Puigdemont has been president of the Catalan government. He proceeded with the separatist course of his predecessor Artur Mas and called the new referendum for October 1, 2017. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy dismissed this as unconstitutional.
'No clear message'
Quim Torra, who leads the Catalan regional government, noted that while independence is a priority, he will be putting his efforts into highlighting the plight of political prisoners, saying: "I will not accept sentences and I will appeal to all free-minded citizens to not accept them either."
Oriol Bartomeus, a politics professor at the Autonomous University of Barlcelona, told AFP news agency that although separatists will "show they are the most organized political force" in the region, they have "no clear message."
Barcelona-born Albert Rivera, who leads the business-friendly party Ciudadanos, took to Twitter to criticize organizers, saying in a Catalan-language tweet: "The Diada should be an autonomous celebration for all Catalans, but the nationalists have hijacked it and turned it into a day of exclusion, hatred and an attack on Spain."
What happened? Last year, Madrid imposed direct rule after the Catalan government orchestrated an independence referendum, which was outlawed by Spain's supreme court prior to the vote. Elections in December brought separatist parties back to power, but internal feuding has prevented them from moving forward on their independence cause.
More autonomy: Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has offered the regional government the ability to hold a referendum on more autonomy, but Catalan leader Torra has rejected the idea, arguing the region deserves a legally binding vote on leaving Spain.
What next? Torra has attempted to drum up support for another show of force on October 1, the first anniversary of the controversial Catalan independence vote.
ls/aw (Reuters, AFP, AP)
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