BARCELONA, Spain — People in Catalonia formed a 250-mile human chain across this Spanish region in the latest push to create an independent state.
At least 400,000 people took part in the event on part in Catalonia's national day.
On Tuesday evening, a crowd walked slowly through the narrow streets around Sants, a neighborhood west of Barcelona, singing, “In, inde, independencia.” Many waved torches or carried the starry esteldada, the flag favored by supporters of Catalan independence.
“We don’t feel respected about our language and our way of life,” said Jemina Albesa, a housewife who was among the pro-independence marchers.
She says she didn’t always support Catalonia’s leaving Spain, but recently changed her mind. “In the past I thought it was possible to make a compromise with the rest of Spain,” she said, “but I think that’s impossible now.’
Such views are becoming increasingly common in Catalonia, a region of around seven and a half million in the country’s northeast. Last year, on September 11, an estimated 1.5 million people took to the streets of the regional capital, Barcelona, in a huge rally for independence.
Today’s demonstration started at 5:14 pm to reflect the year 1714, when Barcelona fell to Bourbon forces. All symbols of Catalan autonomy were destroyed after the defeat. The university was closed and all writing and teaching in the Catalan language forbidden.
Almost 300 hundred years later, Catalonia is one of the country’s most developed regions with a large amount of autonomy.
Still, around 80 percent of Catalans favor holding a referendum on independence. Carles Boix, professor of politics and public affairs at Princeton University, believes 60 to 65 percent would vote yes and another 35 percent would vote no or abstain.
“For 100 or more years, Catalans have tried to have autonomy within Spain, but these autonomy demands have never been fully satisfied and because of that people have become progressively tired and now they are in favor of doing something bigger,” he said.
The latest clamor for independence can be attributed to a number of factors: Spain’s on-going financial travails, growing anger at cash transfers from prosperous Catalonia to poorer regions, and widespread frustration with the central government’s reluctance to grant more powers to the Catalan parliament, which was re-established in 1980.
“Catalan people have realized over the last 15 years that Spain doesn’t really want to reform itself, doesn’t want to change itself,” says Roger Albinyana, secretary for foreign and EU affairs in the Catalan government. “Therefore their aspirations cannot be met within Spain.”
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Others argue that independence would be the wrong choice for a region with strong economic and social links to the rest of Spain.
“For many, independence has become a magic option that will solve all economic problems,” says Murici Lucena, speaker for the Catalan Socialist Party in the regional parliament. “I think it’s a huge fallacy.”
In the aftermath of last year’s successful September 11 demonstration in Barcelona, Catalan premier Arthur Mas called a snap election in a bid to copper-fasten support for independence. But while a majority of pro-succession parties were returned, Mas’s right-of-centre CiU party saw its representation fall. The nationalists have since struggled to govern a divided Catalan parliament.
A referendum without Madrid’s blessing is unlikely — for now, at least. But by taking to the streets today, Catalans will be hoping to keep the issue of Catalonia’s constitutional future firmly on the national, and international, political agenda.