Catalonia’s National Day pays tribute to Catalan language in highly politicised atmosphere

The 11th of September is Catalonia’s National Day, commemorating the day that Catalan troops were defeated while defending Barcelona in 1714. This day Catalonia stopped being recognised as a nation and lost its self-government. Pre-campaigning for the upcoming elections was present throughout this year’s celebrations. The celebration had 2 institutional milestones: the flower tribute to Rafael Casanova, who was Barcelona’s Head Councilman in 1714, and the institutional ceremony at Ciutadella Park. Besides, many institutional and civil society activities were organised throughout Catalonia, such as concerts, demonstrations and tributes.

CNA / Gaspar Pericay Coll

September 11, 2010 10:42 PM

Barcelona (ACN).- This year Catalonia’s National Day was marked by an atmosphere of election pre-campaigning during a moment when the relationship between Catalonia and Spain is being widely discussed by a broad spectrum of Catalan society. However, this year the official celebration focused on the Catalan language. The official ceremony at Ciutadella Park in Barcelona’s downtown displayed the diversity of the Catalan language, spoken in a territory of some 12 million inhabitants in 4 different states (Spain, France, Andorra, and Italy). In addition, the “Nova Cançó” (New Chanson) was honoured; this movement was formed by the folk singer-songwriters of the 1960s and 1970s who sang Catalan resistance songs against Franco’s dictatorship. Earlier in the day, different political parties, with the exception of Spanish Nationalist parties, paid tribute to Rafael Casanova, Barcelona’s Head Councilman in 1714. Civil society organisations also participated in the homage to Casanova, such as FC Barcelona, RCD Espanyol, and Òmnium Cultural (the main civil society organisation promoting the Catalan culture and language). In the afternoon, pro Catalan independence organisations organised a demonstration in Barcelona’s city centre. In the evening, a big concert was held with 2 Catalan pop bands. Many institutional and civil society tributes and celebrations have been going on all day throughout Catalonia, such as the homage at Casanova’s grave in Sant Boi del Llobregat and the flower tribute next to the Lleida cathedral. The Catalan President’s speech delivered on Friday evening before the celebrations centred on the political controversy of the day.

A politicised National Day

This year’s National Day is particularly political for 2 reasons: Catalan elections are to be held in November and the relationship between Catalonia and Spain is being questioned by a broad spectrum of Catalan society. The reason for the latter is because of the Spanish Constitutional Court sentence issued in June that trimmed Catalonia’s Statute of Autonomy (its main law). The Statute of Autonomy had already been approved in 2006 in a binding referendum as well as by the previous voting of the Catalan and Spanish Parliaments (in this order) when the Court took this controversial decision, acting in a politicised way and dominated by Spanish nationalism, as perceived by the main Catalan parties and the vast majority of Catalan society.

José Montilla, President of the Catalan Government, broadcasted his traditional institutional speech the day before Catalonia’s National Day. Controversy was stirred when Montilla talked about “separatist pulses” in some parts of Catalan society. Montilla was referring to the increase of Catalan independence movements and the numerous demonstrations claiming for a new relationship between Catalonia and Spain. In fact, Montilla himself participated in the transversal and colossal demonstration for Catalonia’s self-government that proclaimed Catalonia as a nation with the right to be recognised as such. That demonstration gathered more than 1.2 million people in the centre of Barcelona on the 10th of July. The Leader of the Opposition and President of the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Federation (CiU), Artur Mas, criticised Montilla for not giving a “unifying speech”. According to Mas, Montilla’s speech was “more a party speech than a national one”. Joan Puigcercós, President of the Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party, which is part of Montilla’s coalition government, criticised the Catalan President as well. Puigcercós said that Montilla did not reflect the “common denominator of Catalan society”.

Besides, this morning, some Catalan independence organisations, such as the ones that organised the popular referendums for independence, gathered at the Fossar de les Moreres  (the Mulberry Trees’ Grave) in Barcelona’s Born neighbourhood. This location is very symbolic as it is a small square built over a mass grave where defenders of Barcelona in 1714 were buried. A copy of the “Decretos de Nueva Planta” was burned during the ceremony. “Decretos de Nueva Planta” was the legal package that Philip V approved after the 1714 defeat overruling Catalonia’s rights, stopping its self-government, banning the Catalan language, and putting in place humiliating measures against the Catalan population (such as the obligation to only posses one single knife per family attached by a chain to the kitchen table). In addition, 9,000 people (according to the organisation) demonstrated in the afternoon in Barcelona’s city centre claiming for Catalonia’s independence.

Why the 11th of September?

La Diada honours the Catalan troops that defended the city of Barcelona in the Spanish Succession War (1700-1714) and were defeated on the 11th of September of 1714. From this day on, Catalonia lost its independence within the Spanish Crown, its self-government was abolished, the Catalan language was prohibited and Spain was officially born as a country. Catalonia had to wait until 1931 to have some level of self-government back again, but it lost it again in 1939 with the Franco dictatorship. With the return of democracy, Catalonia saw its self-government come back in 1977, although the plurinational nature of the Spanish State was never recognised and Catalonia is still not recognised as a nation.

Ciutadella Park ceremony and Rafael Casanova’s tribute

The central ceremony of Catalonia’s National Day was held in Ciutadella Park in Barcelona’s city centre. The institutional ceremony began outdoors at noon in front of Ciutadella’s monumental fountain. Catalonia’s political class as well as artists and a numerous audience were in attendance. The ceremony honoured the diversity of the Catalan language, which is also spoken in southern France, Andorra, Sardinia (Italy), as well as other autonomous communities in Spain such as the Balearic Islands, the Valencian Community and Aragon. Altogether, these territories have a population of more than 12 million people. The Ciutadella ceremony also included a concert with artists from all of these regions. In addition, a tribute was held to honour the resistance and music movement called “Nova Cançó” (New Chanson) that was inspired mainly by French folk singer-songwriters. This movement started in the 1960s and lasted until the early 1980s. It focused on political vindication against the Franco dictatorship and the support of the Catalan language.

The traditional homage to Rafael Casanova, who was the leader of the Catalan troops defending Barcelona in 1714, gathered together main political parties and civil society organisations. It is the first year that the Catalan branch of the Conservative and Spanish Nationalist People’s Party (PPC) refused to participate in Rafael Casanova’s flower tribute. It has also been the first year that crowds have been blocked out to avoid protests by the most Catalan nationalists, who had been booing the less Catalan nationalist parties.

Ceremonies abroad

Catalan communities all over the world also celebrated Catalonia’s National Day. Some did it in advance, as in the United Kingdom, where they gathered in London’s downtown on Wednesday evening. In Paris, Catalans gathered in the Fontainebleau, organising a popular barbecue in a festive atmosphere.