It’s a quiet day in Scottish politics, but a very big one in Catalonia. It’s La Diada today, the Catalan national day. Over half a million people, and possibly as many as one million, are expected to take to the streets of Barcelona in order to celebrate the national holiday and to show their support for Catalan independence. It is one of the biggest pro-independence demonstrations in any European country.
In Scotland the independence movement looks enviously at the number of people that the Catalan movement is able to mobilise in the streets, but in sunny Catalonia there is a culture of outdoor events which wet and windy Scotland lacks. La Diada is an annual event with a long history, there is nothing comparable in Scotland. However one of the biggest differences is that in Catalonia the media is more representative of public opinion than its Scottish equivalent, and actually informs the public about such events before they take place. That means that people can make their own minds up about whether to attend. In Scotland we have bad weather, and with the honourable exception of The National we are only able to advertise independence events on social media.
La Diada commemorates the loss of Catalan self-government with the fall of Barcelona in 1714 to the Bourbon forces during the Spanish War of Succession. Catalonia had been a part of the Kingdom of Spain since the union of Castile and Aragon in 1469, but as one of the constituent parts of the old Kingdom of Aragon even as part of Spain it had continued to enjoy considerable autonomy and self-government. Catalonia retained its own parliament, the Generalitat, which had considerable powers within Catalonia. The central government in Madrid was responsible only for foreign affairs. The mediaeval Generalitat had a unique system of choosing deputies, who names were selected at random from a hat.
Following the fall of Barcelona, the Spanish language became the only official language and the Catalan language was prohibited in official use. Catalan fell into a century and a half long period of decay. Catalan institutions were banned, the Catalan parliament was abolished as were the body of Catalan laws know as Les Constitucions Catalanes. For the first time in its history Catalonia came under the direct rule of Madrid.
La Diada began to be celebrated during the Catalan national renaissance in the second half of the 19th century. This period also saw the re-establishment of a written standard for the Catalan language and a rebirth in national sentiment in Catalonia as the Spanish state fell into decay and poverty following the loss of its American colonies.
In 1888 Catalan nationalists erected a statue to commemorate Rafael Casanova i Comes, the Catalan lawyer who was mayor of Barcelona and commander in chief of the Catalan forces during the Spanish War of Succession. He was wounded in combat on 11 September 1714 as the Bourbon forces attacked the city. His property was confiscated by the victorious Bourbons, and he was stripped of his civil rights. He is regarded as one of the great national heroes of Catalonia. The statue is the centre of the official la Diada celebrations, when it is covered with offerings of flowers and bouquets.
La Diada has always been a celebration of Catalan as a nation, and has always been linked to demands for greater self-government or independence for Catalonia. On 11 September 1923 a mass demonstration centred on the statue of Rafael Casanova called for the restoration of Catalan self-government. Violence broke out between the crowd and the police, loyal to the right wing dictatorship of Primo de Rivera. 17 people, including 12 demonstrators and 5 policemen, were seriously wounded. The government in Madrid reacted by banning the celebration. During the Spanish Republic, and the ensuing Spanish Civil War, La Diada became the most important public holiday in Catalonia, explicitly linked to the celebration of Catalan nationhood and its right to self-determination. With the victory of Francisco Franco in the Civil War, La Diada was banned, along with public use of the Catalan language and all Catalan national institutions.
During the repression of the Francoist dictatorship, celebration of La Diada was relegated to private homes. The statue of Rafael Casanova was removed from public view. A few brave souls clandestinely hanged Senyeres (Catalan national flags) in public places, an act which would result in imprisonment and torture if they were caught. It was only after Franco’s death that Catalans were once again able to publicly celebrate their national day. On 11 September 1976 it was celebrated once again. The statue of Rafael Casanova was returned to its rightful place. The following year there was a massive celebration of La Diada in Barcelona, attended by representatives from all over Catalonia, to demand the restoration of Catalan self-government, and for the establishment of the Catalan language as the official language of Catalonia.
Ever since, La Diada has been the largest and most important day in the calendar for those who support Catalan self-determination. With the rise in support for Catalan independence, the event has become even more political. While pro-autonomy parties participated in previous La Diada events, the celebrations have become more explicitly linked to calls for independence and the Catalan parties opposing independence no longer participate.
This year, those attending are demanding the right to a referendum, the right of Catalonia to self-determination, and for the release of political prisoners held by the Spanish state. It is estimated that attendance will be well over 500,000, and possibly as many as 1 million. Amongst the crowds waving La Estelada, the flag of the Catalan Republic, a fair sprinkling of Saltires will also be seen. Catalans are aware of the support that their independence movement has received from Scotland.
The anti-independence party Ciutatans has regularly complained that the annual La Diada celebrations have turned into a “sectarian” call for independence, and so this year it organised a Diada event of its own in La Plaça del Rei in Barcelona. According to a report in the Catalan media this afternoon, 60 members of the party’s representatives were present, along with a bank of press cameras. Just 15 members of the public turned up, outnumbered by the journalists. A celebration of Catalonia’s national day by people who deny Catalan nationhood is a contradiction in terms.
In Scotland we don’t really go in for large public outdoor events, but the lack of them in Scotland doesn’t mean that our independence movement is less powerful or less influential than Catalonia’s. We are different countries, with different histories, facing different challenges. Each of us will achieve independence in our own way.
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