In October of 2019, two years after the illegal ‘Declaration of Independence’ in Catalonia, the same nine catalonia leaders that led the independence movement, were officially sentenced to prison. While some other leaders were tried on lesser charges, these nine main leaders were tried with sedition (“incitement of resistance to or insurrection against lawful authority”) as well as some with the misuse of public funds. In total, all nine sentences ranged between nine to thirteen years in prison.
Quim Torra, a somewhat newly appointed head of the Catalan government, encouraged people to take action (as it neared the second anniversary of the independence referendum). This, as well as the independence leaders being officially sentenced to prison, was another catalyst for people to protest.
The first protest was held on October 14th 2019. During the day, a peaceful march of around 350,000 people came to show their support for the jailed separatist leaders with some wearing yellow ribbons - official symbol of support. During the nighttime, violence broke out from a ‘protest’ that was made up of a group of around 10,000 people, organized by the CDR (the Committees to Defend the Republic) who favour direct action. During the week, daytime protests were peaceful and nighttimes were chaotic, to say the least. Riot police were brought out and many people were injured. The most common offence or even symbolic offence committed by the rioters was the burning of trash cans.
In five separate interviews of young people, conducted by the Spanish Newspaper El Pais, most of them say that they don’t want Catalonia to become independent “because… it would create more conflict”, but all of them say that they understand the reason for violent protests (some of them taking part) citing that they wouldn’t be heard otherwise. One girl, Julia Termens, said that she is “protesting because [she] need[s] change. [She] need[s] to look toward the future and see a way out, and an independent Catalonia could improve the situation”. She mentions that “we either burn a trash container or go unseen” with ‘we’ referring to the collective identity between the protesters.
After creating an estimated €2.7 million worth of damages, many people became very annoyed and frustrated. The following Sunday after October 14th, a rally organized by the SCC (Societat Civil Catalonia) with a slogan of “For understanding, for Catalonia: enough”, was established against the pro-independence movement. An estimated 80 000 people attended the rally, according to the municipal police force (although numbers could have been much greater, according to SCC). Fernando Sancez Costa, President of the SCC, stated in a speech at the rally that Catalans “will never accept or tolerate violence. The streets are and will be for everyone, not for those who use intimidation to take them”. He also asked for the resignation of Quim Torra by stating that if he won’t “govern for all Catalans [not just those who support independence]” and “prefer[s] to be an activist, it’s very simple: let’s go to the polls”.
As the protests continued into late 2019 and early 2020, increased measures used by ‘protesters’ ensured a loss of public support. Many ‘protesters’ used roadblocks, disrupted public transportation, vandalized areas, and were in frequent clashes with police. As even friends and family came into ideological conflict, public opinion remained divided, so the frequent protest measures that intervened in the normal lives of normal citizens such as the sometimes 15-hour roadblocks, made public support for the movement dwindle.
While he didn’t resign, Quim Torras was given an “18 month ban from public office” after posting symbols of support for the jailed separatist leaders on government buildings. He does not have a vote in parliament, but remains the head of Catalan government.
There remains an air of uncertainty in the political sphere and it remains unknown when - and if - there will be another catalyst for another set of major protests and/or change.
These next few months or even years, will be interesting to see how the dynamic of the Covid-19 crisis will play into the unity of Spain and the Catalan independence movement. This crisis will reveal whether this movement is of extreme importance or if it is one that is not as significant.
All Sources Used (PARTS ONE AND TWO):