National Day demonstration: a test for independence camp unity and persistence

September 11 has hosted million-strong demonstrations for 7 years in a row, challenge includes matching past figures ahead of Catalan Trial verdict

Thousands gathered in Barcelona at the 2018 National Day protest. (Photo: Jordi Play)
Thousands gathered in Barcelona at the 2018 National Day protest. (Photo: Jordi Play) / Guifré Jordan

Guifré Jordan | Barcelona

September 9, 2019 02:34 PM

The National Day of Catalonia, September 11, has been closely linked to the independence camp throughout the decade about to come to an end. 

From 2012, seven successive demonstrations, each a million-strong, have taken place mainly in Barcelona, with the 2014 edition peaking at 1.8 million attendees according to the local police. 

A human chain, a V-shaped demo (for Victory) and a sound wave have just been some of the themes of the demonstration throughout the years, always colorful and prone to choreographies. 

And this year the core idea of the protest is meeting point, convergence. Six roads full of people will come together at Espanya square, in Barcelona, which will be the nerve center of the event, or at least this is what the organizing group ANC expect – and this set up is not by chance.  

The pro-independence camp’s unity has proved fragile in the past few months, with the multiple elections not aiding its strength, and parties and civic movements still have not found an agreed joint response to the potential guilty verdict on the jailed leaders – the alternatives are many, and pretty variant. 

In the past few days, the Catalan president cast some – not much – light on how this reaction will be, and a joint letter by all jailed and exiled leaders intended to engage disheartened campaigners into the demonstration. 

While the number of registered people has dramatically surged in less than three weeks from 37,500 to 300,000 (as of September 8), the final turnout and whether the million-mark is matched will not be known until Wednesday evening, at 17.14, the symbolic time reminding the final year that Catalonia boasted full sovereignty before its institutions were removed, 1714. 

The first National Day demonstrations used to shake the political arena, with the 2012 one leading to an election and the 2014 one pushing the government to call an unofficial independence vote

Although no major moves are expected as a result of the 2019 edition, it will be a good thermometer of the level of unity, persistence, and strength of the independence campaigners ahead of yet a major challenge ahead: a potential years-long prison sentence for a dozen political and civic leaders. 

The public expects the politicians in office to be up to the task of facing the judges’ decision with a strong reaction… and the politicians expect the same thing of the public. 

Unionists have already warned that the likely wave of protests kicking off on the National Day, and intensifying after the verdict, will try to be matched with massive pro-Spanish unity marches this fall. 

In between, those in favor of a referendum but not openly for independence, Catalunya en Comú, will have to decide whether to take part in the reaction against the sentence – so, far, its leader Ada Colau has declined taking part in the National Day protest.