GERARD PRUNA / LAIA VICENS
On Sunday thousands —up to 80,000 according to a local police source— filled Barcelona’s Avinguda Maria Cristina to protest against the legal charges being pressed against Catalan political leaders and to defend the Catalan institutions and elected officials that have been prosecuted by Spanish courts of law. The rally was called by the pro-independence grassroots groups (the ANC, Òmnium Cultural and the AMI) with the slogan “For democracy’s sake, let’s support our institutions” as a massive response in defence of all the Catalan elected representatives and institutions currently facing criminal charges.
The leaders of the grassroots groups spoke in support of Catalonia’s institutions and elected officials. AMI President Neus Lloveras warned that “we won’t allow attacks on our elected representatives and our institutions”. “When they attack one of us, they attack us all”, she proclaimed from the stage. Lloveras mentioned that, although “we are beginning to feel exhausted”, independence is “a long-distance run” and now is the time “for the final sprint”. In the same vein, Òmnium President Jordi Cuixart called on all citizens to “get ready” because “the time for permanent mobilisation” starts now. “This is not about independence, but democracy itself and our future as a nation”, he noted. And he asked for “a victory at the polls and to defend it in the streets”.
Cuixart also warned Madrid that its resources will fail to muffle “the cry of a whole people” and showed his solidarity with the Catalan representatives who are facing legal charges: “We will forever stand by your side. We are not afraid. Let us never be afraid”, he emphasised, while the crowd cheered his words. Cuixart went on to argue that when Catalan institutions come under attack, “all Catalans are equally under attack”. He warned that “every judicial onslaught will be met with more democracy” and that Catalans must demonstrate “greater unity when standing up to any unjust cause”. “They failed for 300 years and now they will meet our stubborn determination to stay together”, he said.
“Support for and confidence in” the employees of the justice system
The Òmnium leader sent out two further messages. One was addressed to Catalonia’s political leadership, whom he encouraged to show “statesmanship” and to “rise to the historic occasion”. The second was aimed at Catalonia’s justice employees, to which he sent his “confidence and support” for the [civil servants and justice] professionals who “work honestly”. “The new Catalonia is banking on you”, he said, and he stressed that the new country’s justice system “must be independent from political power”.
ANC President Jordi Sànchez spoke last and warned that independence supporters will persevere until the end: “We will persevere until the end and will take to the streets again, whenever, wherever and for as long as necessary. The time for doubt and concessions is over, for good”, he said.
As he called on everyone to stand together, Sànchez warned that Catalans will not sit around idly while former president Artur Mas and his three ministers are tried over the non-binding referendum on November 9, or when mayors are arrested for flying a separatist flag. “At this point, those who see ourselves as a people must decide whether we go home or we fight to the bitter end”, he remarked, and he argued that people “must carry on with the utmost determination to see the birth of the Catalan Republic”.
Many of the political leaders facing legal action were also present at the rally and they showed their gratitude to the Catalans who were gathered in Montjuïc. The Speaker of the House, Carme Forcadell, underscored that events such as Sunday’s “are not about a single individual, but about fighting for democracy” and the sovereignty of the Catalan parliament and its local councils.
Former Catalan president Artur Mas was also “most sincerely thankful” to those present: “We shall not give up, we shall persevere”, he said. “We know how important what we’re doing is and we will give it all for this country”.
Mas arrived with former ministers Francesc Homs, Irene Rigau and Joana Ortega —prosecuted over the mock vote on November 9, too— who also spoke to demand free speech and for Catalonia to be able to exercise its right to self-determination.
Three of the CUP’s councillors facing charges —Joan Coma (from the town of Vic), Montse Venturós (Berga) and José Téllez (Badalona)— demanded their freedom of political speech and spoke in support of the popular mandate arising from the elections on September 27. Téllez emphasised that “it’s not independence but democracy which is at stake, here”, while Venturós argued for disobedience as a political instrument to put Spain’s illegitimate legality into question.
ERC’s Secretary General, Marta Rovira, also showed her support to the local councillors and representatives being prosecuted for defending the democratic mandate of September 27: “We’re here today and we’ll march again every time because we must stand together until the end”.
Once the rally was over, the Catalan minister for the Presidency and government spokesperson, Neus Munté, thanked the people of Catalonia for their support and said that it gave them “renewed strength” to know that the institutions are “not alone” in their challenge to achieve independence. Munté said that Sunday’s rally exemplified “the contrast between Spain’s decaying political system, one that persecutes democracy, and a people and its institutions that defend it”.
President Puigdemont voiced his support from his hometown
Significantly absent from the rally was Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, who was in Amer, his hometown, attending an honours ceremony where he received the title of “distinguished citizen”. From Amer, Puigdemont spoke to say that “wherever there is a democrat in Catalonia, there will also be a voice to be heard against Madrid’s drifting, antidemocratic pulsation”.
The Catalan president criticised the Spanish government’s insistence “to send to the courts of law any issue that demands a political, democratic resolution” and, referring to his commitment to an independence referendum in 2017, he warned that Catalans will decide “their ties with Spain freely at the polls”.