Around one million people filled Barcelona’s streets Monday evening, according to local police, to mark the celebration of the region’s annual holiday and to demonstrate their support for Catalonia’s independence from Spain.
With less than three weeks until a proposed referendum on independence in the northeastern region of Spain, which is illegal according to the Spanish government and law, pro-independence organizers rallied one of the biggest crowds to date to the yearly celebration.
“These celebrations show the world how we want to approach the [referendum] situation — in a massive, pacific […] way,” said Carles Puigdemont, the president of Catalonia who has vowed to hold a referendum on Oct. 1, despite Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy promising that it “will not happen”.
La Diada, a holiday commemorating Catalonia’s surrender to Spain in 1714, has been used by separatist organizers in recent years as an opportunity to stage protests demanding independence.
The massive mobilizations were criticized by opposition leaders such as Ines Arrimadas, Catalan leader of the pro-unity Ciudadanos Party, who said at a political rally on Monday: “In Catalonia, the majority of us who are not separatists are expelled from a holiday that should be for everyone.”
Recent polls suggest that the population of Catalonia is split on independence. A poll conducted in September for El Espanol suggests 50 percent of Catalans were in favor of independence, but a survey conducted by a Catalan government body CEO in late July found only 41.1 percent supported a unilateral break-away from Spain.
Monday’s march comes amid an increasingly tense showdown between Barcelona and Madrid. The Catalan parliament has just passed two bills, one outlining the referendum process and the other describing what would happen in the case of a “yes” vote to independence. The latter includes a unilateral declaration of independence within two days after the vote.
The Spanish government has officially challenged both laws. The Constitutional Court has suspended the first and is expected to suspend the second law on Tuesday.