Some 150,000 Catalan separatists rallied in Barcelona on Sunday, trying to reignite an independence movement that is fraying as it nears the five-year anniversary of its failed breakaway bid from Spain.
For the past 10 years, the September 11 rally held on Catalonia’s main holiday has been the focal point of the wealthy northeastern region’s separatist movement.
It has drawn in several hundreds of thousands of people who want to create a new country in the western Mediterranean culminating in an October 2017 independence push, which received no international support and was quickly quashed.
But the unity between pro-independence political parties and the civil society groups that led in October 2017 is in danger of falling apart due to conflicting views on how to go forward.
The Catalan National Assembly (ANC), a civil group that organised Sunday’s march, is strongly opposed to the talks that the Catalan government is holding with Spain’s central government in Madrid.
The influential organisation says it has lost faith in political parties and is ready to move on alone towards a new attempt at breaking with Spain. That led to Catalonia’s regional president, Pere Aragonès, becoming the first Catalan president to not attend the annual march.
Dolors Feliu, ANC president, told the AP news agency that she hoped Sunday’s rally would be a wake-up call for Aragonès to stop negotiations with the central government.
Barcelona’s police estimated that about 150,000 people attended the rally. Organisers claimed several hundred thousand more.
Amid a sea of pro-independence flags, some marchers carried signs demanding Catalan authorities either make a “Declaration of Independence or resign”.
Aragonès has defended the talks with the government of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez as vital.
He insists that he will not renounce his pledge to hold another referendum on independence but that the talks are crucial to finding solutions for the dozens of Catalans in legal trouble for their role in the 2017 breakaway bid that was ruled illegal by Spanish courts.
Coinciding with the talks, Spain’s government issued pardons last year for nine Catalan separatist leaders who had been sentenced to long prison terms for leading the 2017 bid.
Catalan separatist parties won 52 percent of the vote last year and maintained their hold on the regional parliament.
But after years of extreme tensions and protests that turned violent in 2019, many people, especially the roughly half of Catalans who want to remain a part of Spain, are relieved there is a dialogue with central authorities.
The infighting threatening Catalonia’s separatist cause comes while Scotland is seeking to hold a second referendum on independence from the UK after the “No” vote won in 2014.