On Monday, one million pro-independence supporters gathered in Barcelona for the National Day of Catalonia, three weeks before the key independence referendum on October 1st.
The city’s streets were flooded with hundreds of thousands of people several hours before the rally organized by the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Òmnium Cultural was set to begin. According to the organizers, up to 2000 buses from cities all over Catalonia made the journey to the capital.
The rally began at 5.14 PM with one minute’s silence held in remembrance of the victims of the Barcelona and Cambrils terror attacks. Spirits were high as the atmosphere changed from one of anticipation to eager excitement and optimism with hopes for a positive result in the coming referendum.
Four banners with messages of peace, independence and liberty were passed along by the protesters in a show of unity.
“Voting has never been a crime,” President of Òmnium Cultural, Jordi Cuixart, addressed the crowd of thousands. “In spite of their fears and threats, we have our own laws based on international legislation. The Spanish courts no longer defend the collective interests of the Catalan people… They want to silence democracy.”
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and representative of the Tunisian Human Rights League Ahmed Galai was also present. A key supporter of Catalan independence, he inspired crowds with his speech stating that “referendum is democracy.” After key speeches made by organizers and pro-independence politicians, crowds began to disperse at around 7 pm.
This year, the annual pro-independence rally was more crucial than ever, since it came in the context of an all-out confrontation between the Spanish and Catalan governments. A few days before the rally was held, the international community said that a low turnout would weaken the legitimacy of the Catalan government‘s disobedience of the Spanish government and Supreme Court in holding the independence referendum set for October 1st.
Nevertheless, the spectacular turn out of 1 million people demanding that the Catalan government hold the referendum, no matter what, appears to have given the necessary legitimacy to the Catalan President to disobey the politicized Spanish Supreme Court and the Spanish government.
After Monday’s mass rally, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said this morning during an interview that he and his government will not accept a hypothetical suspension of their mandate by the Spanish Supreme Court. He added that from now on, he will only follow the Catalan legislation which stipulates that he can only be suspended by the Catalonian people. He also stressed that not only is holding a referendum on independence not illegal, but a right spelled out in the two 1966 UN Conventions on Human Rights which the Spanish Constitution recognizes as the supreme law of the land.
Last week, Catalonia’s parliament passed two crucial laws: the law of the referendum, which allows the government to hold the unilateral independence referendum in October, and the law of “transitorietat” that will only be applied if most Catalans vote in favor of the independence in the referendum. This law would serve as a new constitution until the new one is written, approved, and voted via referendum by the Catalonian people.
It is expected that the tension between the Spanish and Catalan governments will grow to limits never before seen in democracy during the days prior to the referendum. The Spanish government will try to prevent the referendum from happening by all means, but, if it is held in the end, the most important indicators for the international community to validate the results will be the turnout, the opinion of the international observers, and the transparency of the process.