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Spain: Catalans Continue to Push for Independence

This a follow-up to last week's article, Spain: Storming the Streets (and Web) on Catalonia's National Day

It's been a big week in Catalan politics. Last Tuesday, September 11, 2012, well over a million protesters took to the streets to demand Catalonia's secession from Spain, the largest pro-independence rally in the region's history. (A striking aerial photo shows a sea of orange splashed across Barcelona's center, thanks to the abundance of red-and-yellow senyeres, the Catalan national flag.)

In response, Catalan President Artur Mas publicly endorsed the protest [ca], challenging Spanish leaders to respond, a surprising move after a long career of ambiguity on Catalonia's political status. Mas's declaration marks the first time since 1936 that a Catalan president has officially endorsed independence from Spain.

Responses from Spanish officials have ranged from lukewarm to outright denial. Spanish Socialist leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba admitted that political concessions should be made regarding Catalonia's autonomy, while right-wing leaders argued that the massive protest indicated Spain's need for a stronger central government. Spanish Primer Minister Mariano Rajoy has largely avoided the issue.

Meanwhile, pro-independence activists have continued to pressure politicians to match rhetoric with swift action. Online, Catalan netizens have continued to surge the blogosphere to articulate their position. Here follows a review of the past week.

“This is the cry of my people”

Col·lectiu Emma and Help Catalonia, two of the region's most widely circulated English-language blogs, have published substantially, preemptively countering any attempts by foreign media or Spanish politicians to downplay last Tuesday's rally. Aside from documenting smaller protests by the Catalan diaspora in cities like London and New York City, both have posted essays responding to the centralist discourse among Spanish politicians.

Col·lectiu Emma released an article called “The Pursuit of Happiness,” in which the author, Catalan economist Xavier Sala-i-Martin of Columbia University, used an unsettling metaphor to describe the centralist discourse emanating from Madrid:

Possessive husbands tend to react predictably when their wives ask for a divorce: first they act surprised, then they deny the facts, quickly followed by refusing to sign the papers, and finally, they try to make her believe that the separation will leave her destitute and that without him, she is nothing.

Help Catalonia published an English translation of Liz Castro‘s closing remarks last Tuesday, a speech called Escolta Espanya! or “Listen up, Spain!”

No people deserves the treatment that we have received from you. And for that reason, and in cases like ours, the international community recognizes the right to self-determination. It's up to us to exercise it. And it is for that reason that we are meeting here today. Our people witnessed the birth of most of the countries in the modern world while you usurped our sovereignty and dissolved our constitutions. We saw how you created artificial identities while you insisted on denying ours. And what is more. No one can deny the fact that we have been as decisive as we have been constructive, as patient as we have been pragmatic… For the first time in generations, the Catalan nation walks decidedly, harmoniously, and in step toward a new future. This is the cry of my people. Goodbye, Spain.

Smaller English-language blogs based out of Catalonia have also contributed to the past week's impact, such as Catalonia Direct, which described Tuesday's demonstration as an event meant to “put Catalonia's independence on the horizon.”

“I am a Catalan”

On Twitter, pro-independence users have maintained a high level of activity even amid the noise of other relavant issues, such as the recent death of Spanish Communist leader Santiago Carrillo or Madrilenian President Esperanza Aguirre's resignation. #FreedomForCatalonia, #SpainIsPain and #CataloniaIsNotSpain continue to be in common use, as well as #11s2012 and a myriad of Catalan-language hashtags that we described in last week's article.

In response to the high level activity, Al Jazeera launched a live stream episode which included realtime monitoring of Twitter and a moderated debate between public intellectuals Carla Ponsati and Carles Muntaner, as well the activist-turned-politician Alfred Bosch of Catalonia's Republican Left (ERC).

Moreover, #PauCasals has surfaced as a trending topic in Catalonia, referencing the famous cellist who is more commonly remembered by the Spanish translation of his name, Pablo. Two years before he died, Casals gave a short speech before The United Nations, “I am a Catalan” (full text), seeking to explain his national identity to the world — an event that had a major impact in Catalonia during the final years of the Franco dictatorship and continues to resonate with advocates for Catalonia's independence.

Offline action

The high level activity of bloggers and Twitter users has been a parallel trend to offline movement, as activists and politicians have also not rested since last Tuesday's momentous rally.

Motivated but still somewhat unimpressed by the new separatist rhetoric among Catalonia's political elite, local governments have taken matters into their own hands. In order to put pressure on Barcelona to pick up the pace, a handful of municipalities have declared themselves [ca] territoris catalans lliures or “free Catalan territories” outside the reach of the Spanish Constitution.

Meanwhile, leaders of the Assemblea Nacional Catalana (Catalan National Assembly or ANC), the activist group who organized last week's rally, are scheduled to convene [ca] with Artur Mas in the coming days to push for a concrete political strategy towards independence, and it is likely that he will be receptive.

“Catalonia will not be subjugated or silenced,” the Catalan president said on Wednesday, after an unproductive meeting with the Spanish Prime Minister in Madrid.

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