La Diada Nacional de Catalunya 2016

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Another year and another “diada”. This is the national day of Catalunya and the focus of popular support for the Catalan independence movement.

Catalunya is currently in a unnerving process of trying to ceed from Spain. A fragile coalition of nationalist parties are in power, with frequent conflicts arising as the extreme right and the extreme left fight over what an independent Catalunya should look like. The infighting has lead to forthcoming vote of confidence in the president, and it seems that progress towards independence is as much handicapped by those politicians that support it as those that are opposed.

It is difficult to trust any of the quoted numbers for turnout, but there clearly were fewer people present than in past years and I was able to walk relatively freely around the main nexus from Arc de Triomf to the Parc de la Ciutadella (home to the Catalan parliament and, somewhat symbolically, the adjacent local zoo).

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This year’s rallying cry was “A Punt” – supposedly implying an imminent declaration of freedom. But this point seems to be ever receding, and the only clear milestone now is a vague promise of a referendum (explicit or implicit) in July 2017. I suspect that independence fatigue and frustration with the politicians has a lot to do with the reduced turn-out.

It is very tempting to make a comparisons with that of the UK’s “Brexit”. Tempting, but wrong.

Here the independence movement is driven by a long history of repression against Catalunya. It is only 80 years since the start of the Spanish Civil War, where Catalunya was aligned with the loosing Republican side. In the subsequent decades of rule under Franco,  regions that opposed him were systematically persecuted and their cultural identity suppressed by law (language, investment and the movement of people). People in UK who carelessly bandy around phrases such as “the EU dictatorship” should come here and talk to Catalans who actually lived under Franco, read about events such as the execution of Lluís Companys, and the recent controversial education reforms that helped kick-start the  independence movement in its current form.

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It is difficult to see any of this ending well. The most likely scenario is that the government falls apart before independence is declared. No one has good answers to the legal questions that arise. No one has good answers as to how the new country will function economically (not least because it would at least temporarily be outside of the EU). Perhaps that analogy with Brexit is not so far-fetched after all.

The only certainty is that the politicians on all sides will continue to do whatever they can to make capital from all of this – just like the illegal street sellers peddling nationalist flags along Passeig de Lluís Companys.

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