The great communion of the Diada: “The world is watching!”
In the early months of 2012 I started getting emails from the Catalan National Assembly (Assemblea Nacional Catalana, ANC). The association, which had been formed in March of that year, informed me that they were preparing the first great pro-secession demonstration. In fact, they they promised that an exceptional event would take place on the day of the following Diada (Catalonia’s regional holiday). The slogan was clear: “Catalonia, Europe’s new state”. So on September 11 I was in Barcelona to cover my first Diada. […]
What tells Diadas apart from any other event is their mise-en-scène, the discipline of their participants and their extreme mediafication. Demonstrators wear the yellow ANC t-shirt they’re previously instructed to purchase, memorize the choreography designed by a series of experts in communication, book seats in advance aboard buses chartered from all over Catalonia and, additionally, take their designated place along specific stretches of the demonstration. Before meeting up with friends or familly, they cover the baby carriage, great-grandma’s wheelchair or their dog’s back with an estelada (the Catalan secessionist flag). And when I interview them, they proudly respond: “The world is watching.” […]
I walk behind crowds entranced by their own reflection, looking for the cameras and waving at themselves. The demonstrators watch themselves march. They’re there, on the street, in a veritable human tide, chanting slogans in favour of secession. And, at the same time, they’re already on the air and down in history. They’re like participants in a sort of perfectly staged reality show, aware in real time of their numbers and their audience.
In that moment, the main question in my head is who’s paying for this.
(At the time, I still didn’t know that TV3’s annual budget, financed mostly by the regional government, was over 300 million euros a year. But I did know that it was going beyond pure informational interest and into active mobilization: TV3 was one more actor in the demonstration, as much as the people marching down the streets.) […]
In the eyes of the secessionist leaders, the economic crisis and the PP’s return to Moncloa constitute a unique opportunity to rally support for their cause. Demonstrators explain to me that Catalonia “pays for everyone”, that Spain exploits them, that the rest of the country takes sixteen thousand million euros from them every year. They tell me about Andalusians, who receive agricultural subsidies or payments from the Rural Employment Plan (PER) “without working”. They tell me schools in Extremadura have one computer per child, despite the region “living at the expense of Catalans”. The demonstrators feel hard done-by, victims of a profound injustice. Although the truth is the most frequently repeated complaint refers to the Rodalies commuter trains, which “are always breaking down or delayed”.
Although many quietly admit that this is no more than a strategy to obtain a series of economic advantages, others don’t hesitate to use grand words and define Catalonia as a “Spanish colony”, despite its per capita GDP of over € 28,000 per year being among the highest in the country, far removed from Extremadura’s € 16,000 or Andalusia’s € 17,000. […]
The Catalan National Assembly and Òmnium Cultural: a machinery for mass mobilization
On the list of great Diadas, there’s no trace of 2011. But if this movement is a consequence of the Constitutional Court’s abrogation of part of the Catalan Statute in 2010, why is it that that year there weren’t hundreds of thousands of outraged demonstrators in the traditional march? Looking in the archives, all I can find are brief articles in the Catalan press about that mobilization, in which there were around 10,000 people in Barcelona. Nothing special. The answer is simple: the ANC didn’t exist yet back then. […]
One of the driving forces of the ANC, an extremely effective organization with tentacles everywhere, is Miquel Strubell. This specialist in multilingualism, the son of a Catalan mother and a British father, worked to implement the model of linguistic immersion in education in Catalonia in the nineties. He explains the complex strategy applied at the time to create this broad-based movement, present in all areas of associational and professional life and which has allowed them to intensify, organize and coordinate secessionist sentiment.
The ANC was officially born in March 2012, but the first push came three years earlier, still in embryonic form, by a handful of secessionists in Arenys de Munt –a small city in the province of Barcelona–, coinciding with the first popular referendum on secession, organized there by a local group. In that town –according to Strubell– there was a gathering of all the pro-secession activists in Catalonia, whether from the left, the right or the revolutionary far left, to support the initiative and imitate elsewhere. Strubell talked to other secessionists about the success of the referendum. They considered that the complaint filed by the PP before the Constitutional Court against the new Catalan Statute of 2006 gave them the chance to “redefine politics in terms of a confrontation between Catalonia and Spain which could supersede the traditional left-right divide” […]
To implement this strategy, the ANC could count on one fundamental resource, without which it could never have succeeded: the support of Òmnium Cultural, an association created in 1961 to promote Catalan language and culture and which, with its nearly 40,000 active members and 38 delegations, is a powerful institution in Catalonia. Apolitical and broad-based, it constitutes what one might call the great home of Catalanism. Between 1963 and 1967 it went into exile in Paris, having been outlawed by the Franco regime, and since 1969 it grants a yearly Prize of Honor of Catalan Letters. It was this institution which, in 2010 and under the slogan “We are a Nation. We decide”, managed to bring together a million people from across the political spectrum against the decision of the Constitutional Court to abrogate part of the new Statute.
“When the ANC asked us for help, we offered our structure, ideological and logistic support”, explained its president, the businessman and activist Jordi Cuixart, in the impressive central headquarters of Òmnium, just a few days before being imprisoned for sedition in October 2017.
This was how the first great Diada came to be in September 2012, a few months after the birth of ANC. A great success that marked a before and after for the secessionist movement, both from an economic and a political standpoint. Thanks to the fees paid by its 40,000 members and the sale of merchandising products, the ANC currently manages over 3 million euros a year, which it uses to promote secession. “When we managed to mobilize a million people in favour of secession during the Diada, we convinced the regional government to join us”, Miguel Strubell told me. He summarizes the fundamental role played by the images of a compact multitude, in an uncommonly honest quote: “No one wants to be part of a minority. It makes you feel miserable and insignificant.”
Even though it doesn’t depend on the Catalan executive, in practice the ANC acts as a pro-government organization, as Guillem Martínez explains. “It justifies every decision made by the regional government, it helps Artur Mas –depicting him as the protagonist of a historical mission– to avoid the wear caused by his austerity policies and his party’s corruption scandals, or it pressures ERC to accept to run in the 2015 elections in a joint candidacy with CDC called Junts pel Sí (JxSí).”
Despite its presidents not having been elected by the Catalan people, they’re part of the select group of political advisors surrounding Carles Puigdemont to decide what strategy to apply before and after the referendum of 1 October 2017 and to direct Catalan politics, acting as equals to the leaders of the three secessionist parties, the trusted advisors of the president and other ideologues of secession. “Parties engage in politics and the ANC and Òmnium Cultural are in charge of mobilizing the masses. They can bring together a million people on the street. No party is that strong”, a leader of ERC acknowledged, thus admitting to political “coordination” with these organizations. […]
Diadas: from the revolution of smiles to unabashed hate
[…] Some time later, in one of the courtyards of the University of Barcelona, I froze again hearing what a group of twenty-year-old girls had to say about secession. It was November. They were all in favour of secession, except one, who embarrassedly explained that she was “not from here” and that was why she didn’t support it. She had been born in Barcelona. She had grown up there. She loved the city. Catalan was her language, one of the ones she spoke. All her friends lived in the city. And yet, with no prompting, she replied “I’m not from here” because her family was originally “from outside Catalonia”, from another Spanish region. What surprised me was that her friends listened, nodded, but not one of them pointed out that Barcelona was her home, even if her parents had come from another region. Quite the contrary. One of them, despite being a sympathizer of ERC, said a few words bordering on xenophobia: she assured me that Catalan solidarity couldn’t keep being used to subsidize Extremadura’s deadbeats, because “if they’re poor, it’s because they don’t make an effort”. […]