Amid the deafening fanfare of inconsequential daily news, sometimes a cluster of fateful events, whose full significance may not even be clear at the time, pop up within a relatively short time lapse. The few months that preceded Catalonia Today’s birth in June 2004 clearly fall within this category: in fact, March 2004 might forever be remembered as the Month of Lies.

Since 2000, the conservative People’s Party (PP) had had an absolute majority in both of Spain’s parliamentary chambers, so it had a free hand to deploy its aggressive recentralisation programme, which curtailed Catalonia’s autonomy and deployed various glaringly discriminatory measures to concentrate economic activity around Madrid at Catalonia’s expense. This triggered a response whose most visible thrust was perhaps Catalonia’s autonomous parliament’s proposal that a new Statute of Autonomy be drafted to preclude the most blatant discriminatory policies: on 9 February 2004 a parliamentary commission began to draft this text.

Then, a Spanish General Election was called for 14 March. In the run-up, the Socialist Party (PSOE), tracking behind the PP in the polls, made three major promises: pulling Spain out of the Iraq war, raising the minimum salary to € 600/month and supporting whatever new Statute the Catalan parliament put forward. The socialist leader, J.L. Rodríguez Zapatero, was crystal-clear about the latter: “I shall support the Statute that Catalonia’s parliament approves”. This unfulfilled promise has forever after stuck to his name. Yet, as lies often do, in the following years it would bring to the surface a deep truth Catalans all-too-often chose to ignore: any proposal to improve Catalonia’s lot awakens a broad, ferocious anti-Catalan response across Spain, whose xenophobic nature is very hard to miss.

Then, on 11 March, the unthinkable happened: a terrorist attack in Atocha train station in Madrid caused 192 deaths and around 2,000 injured. The PP government tried to bully the police and the press to spread the lie that ETA, by then a largely defanged Basque terrorist group, was responsible for the attack, when all evidence suggested, as it would soon be confirmed, that Al Qaeda was to blame. Text messages flew from one cell phone to another calling the lie, and the PP was defeated in the election.

This incident, among other implications, provides a rare insight into most Spanish voters’ priorities. The PP was associated both with Spain’s participation in the Iraq war and a tough stand against ETA. Yet, for Spain’s voter majority, an attack from ETA would have seemed a good reason to demand retaliation (hence the PP’s interest in fostering this interpretation of the massacre), whereas an equivalent Islamist attack led to demanding not retaliation but abandoning Spain’s role in Iraq’s international coalition.

So it was that Zapatero became Prime Minister, Catalonia’s Statute’s drafting proceeded and the PP, to regain voters’ hearts and minds, intensified its anti-Catalan rhetoric, while the PSOE, knowing only too well the weight those sentiments have in the Spanish public, took a more moderate stand but did not go anywhere close to fulfilling the promises made to Catalan voters during the campaign. The rest is history: the 5 million signatures collected across Spain against the Catalan Statute, its scrapping by Spain’s constitutional court, the claim for Catalan independence to address what obviously could not be resolved within Spain, the demonstrations, the consultations, the referendum, the proclamation of independence, the repression, the exile… It has certainly been a long, tough journey since that Month of Lies over twenty years ago, yet also one that has brought many hard, bitter, necessary truths to the surface - for the wheels of time grind slowly, but also exceedingly thin.

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