As has become customary on September 11, Catalonia’s national day, known locally as La Diada, a mass demonstration in support of the country’s right to self-determination will take place in the centre of Barcelona (see page 9).
In recent times, the protests have not attracted the astronomical numbers they did over a decade ago in the run-up to the unofficial referendum on independence. Up to 1.5 million people turned out in 2012 compared to around 150,000 last year, although that’s still a significant number of people and much larger than any other demo in Barcelona is capable of attracting.
Asking around my own circle of family and friends, only one couple I know are going, as they do every year, to lend their support to the event organised by the pro-independence ANC organisation. Just about everyone else I know went to most of the previous demonstrations but, especially since Covid, their enthusiasm for attending seems to have dropped off.
That is a shame, not least because I used to enjoy pulling their legs about bringing down the government by taking over an empty motorway and waving around pieces of coloured cardboard. But it’s also a shame because I used to love seeing the enthusiasm and togetherness of these people who all wanted the same thing, and something which is not unreasonable in a modern democracy, the chance to vote to decide their country’s future. And what’s more, they did it with a smile and in a festival atmosphere that made those earlier protests not only non-threatening but also unique and heartfelt.
Twelve years since the mass demonstrations began, Catalonia is still not independent. The one vote on self-determination that took place was declared illegal and the pro-independence government that organised it was forced into exile or prison. So were the protests a failure? Or, as many claim, is it Catalonia’s political classes who have let the side down? I won’t try to answer those questions, but I will note that the spirit that led those people to turn out in their many thousands to demand self-determination is still intact today. They may feel demotivated by the lack of political progress, they may find it hard to keep up the pressure by continuing to attend the protests, they may be waiting to see what happens next. But one thing I see in the people around me is that they still think and feel the same way as they did in 2012.
My family and my neighbours will not be going to the protest in Barcelona. However, we will turn out in the village square to listen to the September 11 manifesto, there will be music, and we will sit side-by-side as a community to enjoy a botifarrada and a few glasses of cava, and as long as people in Catalonia keep coming together in one form or another, the spirit of September 11 will continue to live on.