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Spain: Storming the Streets (and Web) on Catalonia's National Day

This post is part of our special coverage Europe in Crisis.

Catalonia's National Day, the Diada Nacional is held every September 11 to remember the defeat of Catalan troops in 1714, during the War of the Spanish Succession, which imposed a rigid centralism in Spain and marked the end of Catalan political autonomy. This year the holiday will be celebrated following a historic surge in pro-independence sentiment, a fact that has been increasingly clear on the blogosphere and social networks.

The lingering effects of the global financial crisis in Spain and the government's new plans for stricter centralization have further strained the already tense relationship between Catalonia and Spain. In fact, a June 2012 opinion poll [ca] showed that 34% favor independence for Catalonia, as opposed to 28.7% who favor a federal Spain, 24.5% who favor regional autonomy (the status quo) and a meager 5.7% who favor a centralized Spanish state, (6.3% had no answer).

To celebrate the Diada, the citizens’ platform Assemblea Nacional Catalana (Catalan National Assembly or ANC, founded in 2009) has organized a joint mass meeting in Barcelona under the overtly separatist slogan ‘Catalonia: a new state in Europe’ for September 11. Massive participation is expected.

“Catalonia, new state in Europe”. Poster for the joint mass meeting on September 11.

“Catalonia, new state in Europe”. Poster for the joint mass meeting on September 11.

Social media storm

On Twitter, an almost countless number of pro-independence hashtags have been born (see below), and new ones continue to surface. Over the last few weeks, hashtags have been directly related to the ANC's Diada rally, including #11s2012 [ca], #11setembre2012 [ca], #marxaANC [ca], and #11sCAT9estat [ca].

A web aggregator [ca] has recently surfaced to channel all Twitter and Instagram activity related to the Diada (also available in English), as well as #1balco1estelada [ca], a collection of user-submitted photos [ca] of the Catalan separatist flag or estelada hanging from balconies.

The organization Catalans al Món [ca] will be offering Catalans in the diaspora who cannot travel to Barcelona the opportunity to virtually participate [ca] in the rally.

Various social and political crises in Catalonia, as well as the ever-deteriorating relationship with the Spanish government have been a constant theme on social networks and the Internet over the past few months. Herein follows a review of recent polemics, debates, and cyber-activism that has stemmed from the conflict between Barcelona and Madrid.

Fiscal crisis

The economic crisis has given way to various online discussions and initiatives. The Twitter accounts @StopEspoli [ca] and @DèficitFiscal [ca] follow the evolution of Catalonia's fiscal deficit with Madrid (that is, the difference between the contribution of Catalan taxpayers to the state and the state's investment in Catalonia).

Pro-independence voters and activists tend to point to the region's precariously high deficit as the main cause of its severe financial crisis. (In the wake of meandering negotiations on Catalonia's proposed economic independence, the region's government recently had to ask for a bailout [ca] by the Spanish government.)

Hashtags like #espolifiscal (#FiscalTheft) [ca] or #espanyaensroba (#SpainIsRobbingUs) [ca] have marked the debate on Twitter. The website espolimetre.cat (“Theft meter”) offers realtime deficit calculations and is available in Catalan, Spanish, English, German, French and Italian. Of course, the unique nature Catalonia's financial crisis is too complex to explain in this post, but we recommend this article, published by the economist Xavier Sala-i-Martin on his blog.

One of the most popular and effective citizens’ initiatives to surge over the past few months was the ‘I won't pay’ movement, which spread like a wildfire thanks to the eponymous Catalan-language hashtag, #novullpagar [ca]. It began in March 2012, when motorist Josep Casadellà i Turon [ca] recorded and uploaded a video of himself refusing to pay a toll on the AP-7 tollroad, protesting disproportionate highway privatization in Catalonia, compared to the rest of Spain.

On the Novullpagar [ca] YouTube channel, as well as on Twitter, there are many videos of users broadcasting their own acts of civil disobedience on Catalan highways. The grassroots movement quickly developed cohesive leadership, who, in preparation for the Diada, have organized [ca] what they hope to be a massive #novullpagar [ca], because, “these highways finance Spain's infrastructure projects and the pockets of our politicians.”

Municipal action and military threats

On September 3, the municipalities Sant Pere de Torelló and Calldetenes declared themselves [ca] to be “free Catalan territories” with the objective of pressuring the Catalan government to aggressively and directly pursue independence.

A few days earlier, on August 31, Francisco Alamán Castro, a colonel in the Spanish military, threatened military intervention [ca] if Catalonia declared independence. His statements, made during an interview with the far-right (and somewhat marginal) online publication Alerta Digital [es], exploded in the blogosphere. Widespread demands for his dimission appeared under the hashtag #DenúnciaAlamán [ca] and an intense debate [ca] circled around article 8.1 of the Spanish Constitution of 1978, which states the military's purpose is “to guarantee the sovereignty of Spain, defend its territorial integrity and constitutional order.”

‘Anti-Catalanism’ online

For some months now, the initiative @Apuntem [ca] has monitored an increasingly hostile, anti-Catalan discourse on Twitter. While denounced users tend to be marginal, with no more than a handfull of followers, the frequency and (often openly violent) intensity of highlighted tweets point to a culture of open hatred for the Catalan people that is alarming.

One relevant case is that of Àlex Fàbregas, a Catalan Olympian who mentioned in July that he felt more Catalan than Spanish and only played for Spain because “he has no other option” (there is a Spanish law penalizing athletes who refuse to join the Olympic team). A storm of violent comments towards Fàbregas — including death threats — led the athlete to delete his Twitter account. Sympathetic users created the hashtag #TotsSomÀlexFàbregas  (We're all Àlex Fàbregas) [ca] in response.

Efforts to explain Catalan perspectives

In the last few months, Catalan citizens have stepped up their efforts to explain Catalonia's context to the international community as a contrast to the dominant discourse emanating out of Madrid, where foreign correspondants are usually based. The English-language blog Col·lectiu Emma was founded as a response to the “skewed visions about the Catalan people presented by the international press.”

Celebrating the Diada Nacional, Col·lectiu Emma published an essay in six languages in order to explain Catalonia's social context to their European neighbors. On Twitter, pro-independence, English-language hashtags have arisen, such as #Cataloniaisnotspain or #FreedomForCatalonia. Twitter activists used the former to help organize  [ca] a collective mass tweet on September 10.

This post is part of our special coverage Europe in Crisis.

Hashtags lead to mainly Catalan tweets, unless otherwise indicated:

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