A show of support?


In 2019, only about 600,000 people marched in favour of Catalan independence, one of the lowest turnouts in eight years

Mark Nayler

Tuesday, 5 October 2021


The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has dismissed a case against Spain brought by two Catalan citizens who were seeking condemnation of the Spanish government's intervention in the independence referendum of October 1st 2017 (1-O). Coming just ahead of Catalonia's National Day (Diada) tomorrow, it's a setback for the region's secessionists, who have repeatedly requested that external bodies such as the European Union and the Council of Europe, of which the ECHR is part, support their bid to break from Spain.

The ECHR ruled that Spanish police violated no human rights in their treatment of voters throughout Catalonia on 1-O. This seems to clash with the verdict of Human Rights Watch, an international monitoring organisation that conducted on-the-ground research immediately after the referendum and concluded that police had used "excessive force" - although one could argue that, depending on how "excessive force" is defined, it doesn't necessarily amount to a violation of fundamental rights.

The Catalan independence movement is also being sullied by investigations allegedly revealing its attempts to secure Russian backing. A recently unveiled EU intelligence report has found that Josep Lluis Alay, a history professor at the University of Barcelona and senior advisor to self-exiled former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, visited Russian officials and former intelligence officers in Moscow throughout 2019.

The goal of these meetings, says the report, was to obtain Russian support for Catalonia's attempts to secede from the rest of Spain. Later text messages also seem to show Catalan separatists to be concerned about aggravating Russia: when Puigdemont expressed solidarity with the pro-democracy Belarusian opposition, his lawyer texted Alay saying "we will have to tell the Russians that this was just to mislead". Why would they want to do that if the purpose of the Moscow trips was journalistic, as Alay and Puigdemont claim it was?

Current, pro-independence Catalan president Pere Aragonès denies knowledge of the visits to Russia, but they may still complicate the latest round of negotiations with PM Pedro Sánchez, due to start next week. When these talks were scheduled in June, Aragonès said they were likely to be "the most difficult negotiations in all of contemporary history". Given the apparent irreconcilability of the secessionists' demands and the Spanish government's baseline position, this is perhaps not as big an overstatement as it seems.

Covid-induced restrictions resulted in a neutered Diada last year, with several separate events attended by a total of around 60,000 people. But in 2019, only about 600,000 people marched in favour of Catalan independence, one of the lowest turnouts in eight years. Tomorrow's Diada, the first since thirteen imprisoned secessionist leaders were pardoned in June, will indicate how much support remains for secession, as well as being a celebration of the freedom to hold street-based gatherings again, regardless of their political significance.





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