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29th Mar 2020

Catalonia celebrates national day ahead of trial verdicts

  • Catalonia's national day in 2017 was fundamental to legitimising the subsequent independence referendum by the Catalan government (Photo: Roser Vilallonga/Assemblea.cat)

Present and former members of the Catalan government called on citizens on Wednesday (11 September) to participate in the mass demonstrations in Barcelona for Catalonia's national day.

A spokesperson for Catalan government, Meritxell Budó, encouraged citizens to march across the capital "to recover the national rights and freedoms of Catalonia".

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  • This year the ‘Diada' takes place ahead of the verdict of the Spanish Supreme Court on 12 Catalan separatist leaders on trial for rebellion and other crimes (Photo: Paco Freire/SOPA via ZUMA Wire/dpa)

Catalonia celebrates every year its national day, also known as the "Diada", which commemorates Barcelona's last defence, following 14 months of siege, on 11 September 1714 during the War of Spanish Succession.

However, the day has become politically symbolic for the independence cause in Catalonia and especially this year, since the Diada takes place while awaiting the decision of the Spanish Supreme Court on some 12 separatist leaders, who are former politicians of Carles Puigdemont's short-lived independence government.

"On the eve of these verdicts, it is important that we are seen as strong and massively mobilised," said Elisenda Paluzie, the president of the pro-independence group Assemble Nacional Catalana, which organised the demonstrations, to AFP.

The mass mobilisations that took place in the Diada of 2017 were a key to legitimising the referendum on independence by the Catalan government - although it was declared illegal by the Spanish Constitutional Court.

The current president of the Catalan government, Quim Torra, insisted on Tuesday on the "right to decide" of the Catalans as the only form to find an answer to the ongoing political stalemate between Madrid and Barcelona.

"There is only one way to solve this dilemma which is exercising the right of self-determination," said Torra, adding that "every time a right is denied, it will be necessary to exercise it again".

As a response, the leader of the Spanish liberal party Ciudadanos (Citizens) party, Albert Ribera, asked Spanish acting prime minister Pedro Sanchez at Wednesday's plenary session to respond to Torra's calls for disobedience and contempt.

"It is not a right to apply the article 155 [of the Spanish constitution] but an obligation. I ask you [Sanchez] to take the stand and say that you will apply the [article] 155" said Ribera, who said that Catalonia's national day "is not a celebration for all the Catalans".

Article 155 allows the Spanish government to take measures in exceptional cases to restore constitutional order in any region - similar norms exist in the German, Swiss, Italian, Austrian or Portuguese constitutions.

Sanchez on Wednesday wrote on social media that "today should be a day that unites all Catalans, under the dialogue within the Constitution, coexistence, respect, and understanding".

Incoming trial verdict

The separatist leaders were placed on trial for rebellion and other crimes related to their role in the unilateral secession attempt of October 2017.

The verdict is expected next month, probably before 16 October, as that date will mark two years in preventative detention for two of the separatist leaders, Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart - which is the limit under the Spanish law.

However, the judge could extend this date if necessary.

The president of the Catalan parliament, Roger Torrent, said on Tuesday that if there is a harsh sentence from the Supreme Court it "will mark a deeper rupture of the Catalan society than the sentence of 2010" which in his words "triggered the pro-independence majority" in Catalonia.

On 28 June 2010, the Constitutional Court of Spain modified the Catalan statute of autonomy, reducing the political competences of the region - what provoked large protests in Barcelona.

Back then, three Catalan MEPs, Raül Romeva i Rueda (Greens/EFA), Oriol Junqueras Vies (Greens/EFA) and Ramon Tremosa i Balcells (Alde)- asked the EU Council "to open a debate with the Spanish authorities".

The spitzenkandidat of the European Free Alliance (EFA) Oriol Junqueras will also face his first hearing at the Court of Justice of the EU on 14 October - where his lawyer will try to defend his right of parliamentary immunity as an elected MEP.

Junqueras, who is currently imprisoned in Spain for 16 months, was not allowed to leave jail to pledge his signing-in oath for the European Parliament by the Spanish Supreme Court - a requirement to take office as an elected MEP in Spain.

French MPs criticise Catalonia situation ahead of verdict

More than 50 French MPs have voiced their concerns about the situation in Catalonia. The acting Spanish minister for foreign affairs - and incoming EU foreign affairs chief - Josep Borrell has lamented "the ignorance about the reality of Spain".

Opinion

Catalonia MEPs are a judicial, not political, issue

Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comin currently live outside Spain. They were prosecuted for the serious crimes, and they have fled justice. It is not possible to judge in absentia in Spain, where the justice system protects the rights of defendants.

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The Catalan National Day has been a success. Why?

Some media - especially those based in Madrid - have emphasised that "the National Day of Catalonia (the 'Diada') has failed". Nothing could be further from the truth.

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Two years after the former government of Carles Puigdemont held a unilateral independence referendum in defiance of the Spanish courts and constitution, the political and social conflict in Catalonia is still a key issue for both Spain and Europe.

Nine Catalan separatist leaders given long jail terms

Spain's Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan leaders to between nine and 13 years in prison for sedition and misuse of public funds over their role in Catalonia's 2017 bid for independence. The possible legal immunity of some MEPs remains unanswered.

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