State of Independence VIII
A further set of film photographs from the independence crisis here in Barcelona.
As the struggle between the secessionists and the Spanish state has increased, protests both for and against independence have multiplied. These images were taken from five distinct events in the last ten days.
The first was a protest against the arrest and detention without bail of the heads of the two pseudo-cultural groups, Òmnium and the Assemblea Nacional de Catalunya. The arrests were made because of the organisation of the flash protest on the 21st September with the aim of disrupting court orders to detain officials working on the (then) proposed independence referendum. The independence movement has branded those detained as “political prisoners”, although this does require a somewhat generous interpretation of the term.
To protest their arrest, workers were asked to leave their jobs and go in to the streets for a five minute silence. I could not find anyone who actually did this aside from the pro-independence media group, VilaWeb – seen below holding posters calling to “free the political prisoners”:
Next up was a large pro-independence student demonstration in the center of Barcelona.
These protests are surprisingly well organised, with stages and music set up in public squares, and the marches are usually fronted with large professionally produced banners. Given the presence of the deputy chiefs of Òmnium and Assemblea at the head of the march, it seems likely that these pro-independence groups are behind much of this organisation.
Thursday saw the end of the final deadline for the leader of the Catalan Parliament, Carles Puigdemont, to respond to the central government. Puigdemont had the option of backing down from a unilateral declaration of independence by dissolving the parliament and calling fresh regional elections, thereby avoiding the imposition of direct rule under Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution.
The afternoon saw several announcements scheduled and then canceled, with rumours that Puigdemont would indeed backdown. This lead to some fairly heated protests in front of the Palau de la Generalitat, with some pro-independence supporters calling Puigdemont a traitor:
But ultimately, Puigdemont announced that he would not be triggering elections. Although this was blamed on the Madrid government for not offering sufficient guarantees that this would avoid implementation of Article 155, it was in reality the result of hard-line positions taken by the independence coalition parties CUP and ERC who want to proceed with the secession regardless of the economic and political realities.
The following morning, an urgent plenary session of the Parliament held an anonymous vote that resulted in a slightly less ambiguous formal declaration of independence. In reality, the vote was invalid, violating not only the Spanish constitution but also Catalunya’s own legal requirement for a super-majority in cases such as this.
Despite this, for many these events signalled that Catalunya had passed the point of no return, and the pro-independence groups were in celebratory mood even as the Spanish central government approved the use of Article 155. The central government has now taken direct control over the region, pending fresh elections called for the 21st December to establish a new regional assembly.
The weekend finished with a pro-unity march on Sunday, organised by the Societat Civil Catalana. This was perhaps the first significant demonstration for what many have called the “silent majority” in Catalunya – the majority of the population here who do not support independence, but who – until now – have lacked the organisational focus and resources shown by the pro-independence groups Òmnium and Assemblea.
Many from the left in politics stayed away because of Societat Civil Catalana’s close association with right-wing political parties, yet despite this many hundreds of thousands of people attended (1.1 million according to the organisers, although this figure is likely inflated).
The independence declaration has not been well received internationally. As far as I am aware, not a single country has recognised the Republic of Catalunya, with many citing its undemocratic and illegal independence process. The world today is deeply connected, and strong international economic and cultural ties are essential for any country to prosper – and unsurprisingly the economic flight from Catalunya has accelerated with the most recent data showing that more than 1800 companies representing a staggering 40% of regional GDP have now relocated their headquarters away from the region.
More positively, the last few days have been surprisingly peaceful, despite the large protest groups and dangerous political situation. However, that peace is likely to be severely tested from Monday when Spain takes direct control of all regional government functions.
All the images here were shot, as usual, with the M7 and 28mm Summicron on Ilford Delta 400 film.