1 million people from all over Catalonia gathered today in Barcelona for the annual September 11 pro-independence protest, according to police figures.
The city’s streets began filling up early in the afternoon as the thousands of people registered to take part in the September 11 pro-independence demonstration, organised by the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Òmnium Cultural, prepared themselves for the big moment.
Shortly after midday, hundreds of buses began to arrive in Barcelona carrying an army of protesters armed with signs, Catalan flags, and wearing pro-independence T-shirts, all ready to take part in the the rally, which began at 5:15pm. According to figures provided by ANC and Òmnium, up to 1,800 buses from towns all over Catalonia made the journey to the capital.
More than an hour before the rally was set to begin, the city’s streets were already flooded in a sea of bright yellow, with people of all ages wearing the protest’s official fluorescent t-shirts coming together in a peaceful demonstration for freedom from Spanish governance.
After a one minute’s silence held in remembrance of the victims of the Barcelona and Cambrils terrorist attacks, the demonstration was officially underway. Spirits were high as the atmosphere changed from one of anticipation to eager excitement and optimism, with hopes high for a positive result in the coming referendum on October 1.
"Voting has never been a crime"
Jordi Cuixart · President of Òmnium Cultural
Four massive banners with messages for peace, independence and liberty, were passed along by the protesters in a show of unity.
Children, parents, grandparents, and great granparents joined together in the shape of an enormous plus at the junction of two of the busiest streets in the center of Barcelona, representing a positive sign for democracy and freedom.
“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 discourse stating that “referendum is democracy.”
After key speeches made by organisers and pro-independence politicians, crowds began to disperse at around 7pm.
Visitors from other countries...
Not only did Catalans who want independence attend the demonstration, but so did visitors from all around the world — some were fully supportive of the political cause, while others were compelled by the size of the crowd and the joy and intensity of the atmosphere.
“I love it. It’s crazy! We don’t really do anything like this in England, not even for Saint George’s day,” said Ali Jones, who joined her Catalan boyfriend to celebrate the Diada. “The only thing I can compare it with is when the World Cup is on and you’re supporting your country. It kind of feels like that.”
Indeed, it was quite common to see Catalans accompanied by their international partners. That's the case of Cristopher Boone, from the United States, who had spent two months in the country and was leaving the following day. “It’s a well organized manifestation. I think it’s well done,” he said, after comparing it to other protests he had previously attended. “It’s nice that it’s not organized by a single political power and that the people organize it a lot. And it’s popular, there’s a lot of people here, that’s encouraging.”
Boone also referred to the history of the celebration: the defeat in the 1714 War of Succession against the Spanish army, who supported the heirs of the Bourbon crown which was in turn supported by France; Catalonia, then part of the Crown of Aragon, was allied with the English, the Austrians and the Dutch, and supported the archduke Charles. After losing the war, Catalonia’s institutions were abolished.
“It’s ironic but also interesting that the day of the manifestation is the day that Catalonia lost its independence against the state of Spain. But this is also maybe important for generating popular support and the awareness that what’s to be gained now is independence from an oppressive power,” Boone said.
… and visitors from other ages
Some visitors even seemed to come from the past. Dressed in period costume and wearing three-cornered hats, the Miquelets de Catalunya recreate the look of the soldiers who defended Catalonia in the Succession War. “We fought 300 years ago with guns, with muskets,” said Ramon Passolas, the association’s secretary, who really got into character. “But today we fight with the reason and our vote.”