‘Via Lliure’: A mass rally on Catalonia’s National Day “to start building a new country”

A gigantic demonstration is being prepared by the two civil society associations supporting the independence process, the Catalan National Assembly and Òmnium Cultural, for Catalonia’s National Day. The ‘Via Lliure cap a la República Catalana’ (‘Gateway to the Catalan Republic’) arrives after three years in a row of historic pro-independence rallies that have gathered more than 1.5 million people each. This time the demonstration will take place along Meridiana Avenue in Barcelona and there are already 360,000 people registered to participate. The rally will make its way along a 5.2-kilometre-stretch, from the ‘Parc de la Ciutadella’ – where the Catalan Parliament is located – to the outskirts of the Catalan capital, symbolically linking the institution that represents Catalonia's sovereignty with the streets of Barcelona and the rest of the country. 

Members of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) holding the coloured pointers that will be used in 'Via Lliure'
Members of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) holding the coloured pointers that will be used in 'Via Lliure' / ACN / Sara Prim

ACN / Sara Prim

September 9, 2015 10:17 AM

Barcelona (CNA).- There are only a few days left before the 11th of September, Catalonia’s National Day, and as happened for the last three years, the pro-independence organisations Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Òmnium Cultural are preparing a massive demonstration in Barcelona. This time the rally will take place along Meridiana Avenue, one of the most important arteries in Barcelona and there are already more than 360,000 people registered to participate. The chosen avenue goes from the ‘Parc de la Ciutadella’ – where the Catalan Parliament is located – to outside of the city, and thus the rally will symbolically link the Parliament, where Catalonia's sovereignty lays, with the streets of its capital city and the rest of the country. Under the name ‘Via Lliure cap la República Catalana’ (‘Gateway to the Catalan Republic’) this 5.2 km-long rally will show the support and commitment of the different groups of society to the independence process that many parties and civil society organisations claim for Catalonia. According to the organisers, this time the demonstration wants to outline the will of a vast majority of the Catalan people to start creating a new and independent country.

This year’s demonstration is also expected to be huge. The route has been divided into 135 stretches, symbolising the Catalan Parliament’s total number of members, and 115 of them are already full. The pace of registrations this year is higher than last year, when 1,800,000 demonstrators gathered together in the Catalan capital between Diagonal and Gran Via. So far, more than 360,000 people have registered online for ‘Via Lliure’ and 1,200 coaches have already been rented to carry demonstrators to Barcelona. As happened in the other big rallies, many people who weren’t registered attended the demonstrations anyway. Following this, the president of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), Jordi Sánchez outlined the importance of being registered “not because we fear that the ‘Via Lliure’ won’t be full” but to inform the participants of their position and role during the demonstration. 

The entities ANC and Òmnium Cultural, which are in charge of organising the event through a campaign called ‘Ara és l’Hora’ (‘Now is the Time’), have published a map showing the amount of registrations for each stretch of the route. Those sections that are closer to Sagrada Familia, the world famous Gaudi temple in Barcelona, are already full. However, the occupation rate is lower as the route goes towards the Sant Andreu neighbourhood, in the outskirts of the city. The organisers have calculated that there are still 125,000 people needed to complete the whole route.

A social mosaic to start building a new country

While last year’s V-shape’s demonstrators dressed in red and yellow, symbolising the colours of the ‘Senyera’, the Catalan flag, this year’s predominant colour will be white. According to the ‘Via Lliure”, the colour white symbolises a blank page, a book that citizens have to fill with their wishes for the next country that will be Catalonia. 

Different coloured cards in the shape of arrow pointers will be located all along the avenue, one for each of the ‘10 concepts’ that have formed the core of ‘Ara és l’hora’ (‘Now is the time’), the ANC and Òmnium Cultural’s summer campaign for the Catalan elections scheduled for the 27th of September. These 10 concepts represent key values that the new independent Catalonia must guarantee. The colours will be distributed as follows: yellow for democracy, blue for regional balance, red for solidarity, sky blue for openness to the world, green for diversity, dark green for sustainability, purple for equality, brown for welfare and social justice, pink for innovation, and orange for culture and education. The aim is to turn Meridiana Avenue into a massive mosaic where all the sectors of society have their place and build the shape of a big pointer leading to the Catalan Parliament.

The ‘Gateway to the Catalan Republic’ will be divided into 135 stretches, the same number as the total number of representatives sitting in the Catalan Parliament. More than half of the stretches have already a high occupation rate but there are still stretches that are almost empty. Online registrations started at a higher pace than last year, but experienced a drop-off during the first weeks of August. The ANC and Òmnium Cultural are urgently calling for participation, but also point out that in the last big rallies many people registered at the very last minute.

17:14, the starting signal

The demonstration will officially start at 17:14, symbolising 1714, the year when Barcelona finally succumbed to Bourbon troops, after 14 months of cruel military siege. The whole demonstration is supposed to last approximately an hour and a half, including the final speeches that are normally given by the president of the ANC, Jordi Sánchez, and that of Òmnium Cultural, Quim Torra, and other outstanding representatives of civil society. At 17:14, a giant arrow pointer symbolising the way to the Catalan Republic will travel along Meridiana Avenue, starting at Roselló Porcel Street, at the entrance of Barcelona, and going all the way up to ‘Parc de la Ciutadella’, where the Catalan parliament is located. 

Catalan human towers ‘Castellers’

As least 60 groups of ‘Castellers’ from all over the territory will also take part in the demonstration. These traditional Catalan human towers will be displayed throughout the ‘Via Lliure’, accompanying the arrowhead as it moves towards Parliament. Although each group is permitted to start after 16.00, once the pointer starts to move along the route, which will be at 17.14, the ‘Castellers’ will make towers in the different coloured stretches. 

A demonstration that aims to be “the last one”

For the last three years, the demonstrations held on the 11th of September and organised by the ANC and Òmnium Cultural have been a massive success. Each of them have meant a turning point and their democratic claims have defined the political agenda in Catalonia and Spain afterwards. This year, the aim of the demonstration is “to be the last one with a vindicatory purpose”, stated former president of the ANC, Carme Forcadell. The two organisers hope this will be the last time Catalans will have to ask for their right to vote, with both organisations regarding the forthcoming Catalan elections on the 27th of September as a ‘de facto’ plebiscite on independence and hoping the result will show vast support for independence from Spain. Thus, the ‘Gateway to the Catalan Republic’ will mark “the beginning of a new country where all social groups have their say”, the president of the Catalan National Assembly Jordi Sànchez stated. 

An event “for everyone”

The proximity of the Catalan Elections, scheduled for the 27th of September, is a tricky issue: since the rally will take place two weeks before the Catalan elections and on the same day that the electoral campaign kicks off, the debate is open. 

Some anti-Catalan nationalist parties, such as Ciutadans (C’s) and The People’s Party (PP), who currently rules the Spanish government and is against Catalonia’s independence process, have warned that the demonstration is not legal, as they regard it as a political act from the unitary pro-independence list ‘Junts Pel Sí’ (‘Together for Yes’), which includes the former presidents of the ANC – Carme Forcadell – and Òmnium Cultural on its list. 

On the other side, the President of the Catalan National Assembly, Jordi Sànchez, has made it clear that he does not want the National Day to become an electoral event: “everyone who believes in the right to decide and the need to push for a new country will have a place there” he stated. Thus, the event welcomes not only those who support Catalan independence but also those who agree with Catalonia’s right to vote and decide its political future. “The facts will demonstrate that the ‘Via Lliure’ wasn’t an electoral event” he stated.

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau to be absent 

The Mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, won’t attend the rally. Citing her “institutional role as Mayor”, she stated that it was preferable to “keep issues separate”. According to Colau, the aim of the ‘Via Lliure’ is to induce Catalans to vote in the upcoming Catalan elections. “Without questioning the legitimacy” of the demonstration, she reached out to co-operate on security and mobility issues and to receive the organisers of the demonstration. 

C’s and PP support the pro-Spanish unity demonstrations instead

Anti-Catalan nationalism party Ciutadans (C’s) stated that they will try “to put all the possible obstacles” to impede the rally from happening. Ciutadans’ councillor in Barcelona’s City Hall, Carina Mejías, said that the pro-independence rally is “partisan”, only “interests a few” and creates a “split” as it divides Catalan society. “I don’t know why Barcelona has to each year be the stage for partisan harangues”, Mejías stressed. Such events “do not fit into” the party’s model for Barcelona, she said. National Day (on 12 October) and the Spanish Constitution’s Day (on 6 December) supporting Spain’s unity in Barcelona are “adequate” and “have nothing to do” with the division created by the pro-independence demonstrations. 

Three MEPs to attend the rally 

Swede Bodil Valero, Flemish politician Mark Demesmaeker and representative of the Swedish Minority in Finland, Nils Torvalds, all of them Members of the European Parliament, will attend the rally. The MEPs were invited by left wing pro-independence ERC MEP Josep Maria Terricabras and liberal party CDC MEP Ramon Tremosa. “We understand the challenges for Catalonia and we certainly want to be there” declared Torvalds, from the Euro chamber’s liberal group. “There are many MEPs who are interested” in Catalonia’s situation, stated Valero, adding that next week a seminar will be held in Sweden in order to “explain the Catalan case and the upcoming elections on the 27th of September”. Indeed, already back in 2012, Valero asked Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carl Bildt, about the future of an independent Catalonia in the EU. The Swedish MEP lived in Catalonia for a long time and urges Rajoy to do the same as Cameron and allow a referendum in Catalonia.  

International figures to support the ‘Via Lliure’

Thirty people from different countries have been invited by Òmnium Cultural to witness the independence movement at Meridiana Avenue in Barcelona. Scottish writer, Irvine Welsh, French-American activist, Susan George, Germany’s foreign affairs advisor, Kai Olaf Lang, and professors such as Michael Keating, Michel Seymour, Bard Fassbender, David Farell and Rogers Brubaker are among those invited by the sovereignty association.

The invitees will arrive on the eve of the 11th of September, attend meetings with civic and social organisations, as well as meetings with political parties, and assist in the ‘Via Lliure’. The aim of Òmnium is to “internationalise” the process of Catalan sovereignty and explain the arguments in favour of independence to international figures from different fields, including the world of journalism.

The ‘Via Lliure’ abroad

On an international scale, the Catalan National Assembly is also organising events linked to the big demonstration being held in Barcelona. The international sections of the ANC are preparing different celebrations and gatherings to take place in many cities in Europe, but also in North and South America and Australia, as happened for the last three historic rallies. In total, 30 cities all over the world will take part in the ‘Gateway to the Catalan Republic’ between the end of August and the first week of September. Poland was the first country to organise their own demonstration and events related to the National Day’s commemoration. On the 23rd of August, Amsterdam and Berlin reproduced their own ‘Gateway’ and on the 30th of August, the largest number of cities with Catalan residents joined the celebration:  New York, Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santiago de Chile and Brisbane (Australia). London, Edinburgh, Manchester, Brussels, Paris, Mexico City, San Salvador and other cities are organising similar gatherings and street parties between the 5th and 6th of September.

For the 11th of September’s big rally in the Catalan capital, the ANC has provided a specific section of the ‘Via Lliure’ on Meridiana Avenue for Catalans travelling from abroad to Catalonia for the National Day. They suggest they register for section 53, which is on the crossroads between the Meridiana and Carrer Espronceda.