'We are all Catalonia' march brings thousands out on Barcelona's streets

Pro-unity Spaniards from left and right demonstrate in Catalan capital against Carles Puigdemont’s independence movement

Dario Fernández Barbero headed into central Barcelona with one word for his fellow citizens, printed out in red and attached to his backpack: “Pau”, meaning peace in Catalan.

A sea of flags, Spanish, European and the official Catalan senyera banner – a rival to the pro-independence Estelada version – waved around him, but the 65-year-old said he wasn’t comfortable with any of them.

“I’m not very keen on flags, so I printed this out to carry,” he said pointing to the sign on his pack. “Its important for democracy that people know not all Catalans are supporters of independence, and we are just as Catalan as those who want to leave Spain.”

There was a sense of exhilaration among the hundreds of thousands who joined him, flocking into one of Barcelona’s most famous boulevards for only the second major pro-union demonstration in recent years.

“I think this march can change things,” said Mariá Carmen Rodríguez Pareja, who has two jobs, as a cleaner and at a bakery. Still recovering from surgery that forced her to sit out the last pro-union march on 8 October, she was determined to turn out on Sunday.

“We have shown ourselves, we have come out on the streets to show we have voices and votes too,” she said of a group often dubbed the “silent majority”.

Opinion polls show independence supporters are a minority in Catalonia, although their ranks have swelled considerably from a decade ago and quirks of the voting system gave pro-independence parties a slim majority in parliament after the last election.

But they have traditionally been far more vocal, and visible, than supporters of remaining part of Spain.

“This is my first time at a demonstration, we wanted to say that we don’t see a future outside Spain,” said Geraldine, 14, out with her older sister and draped in the Spanish flag. “Today gives us hope, it shows we aren’t a minority, we are a majority.”

In the brilliant autumn sun, crowds gathered, chanted, listened to speeches and sometimes peeled off into tapas bars and cafes lining the route to grab a snack or drink. Many came in family groups, and even with their pets, beagles and chihuahuas boasting tiny Spanish flags tied to their collars.

“I am also part of Catalonia, and I don’t recognise [Catalan leader Carles] Puigdemont’s right to speak in my name,” Josep Borrell, a Catalan and a former president of the European parliament, told the crowd, summing up the sentiments of many listening to him.

“What are borders? They are the scars that historia has left engraved on the world, engraved with blood and fire, let’s not raise more, because they have cost a lot to build,” he said.

The rally, called under the slogan “We are all Catalonia” united rival groups from socialists to the conservatives who control the central government. It was organised by the grassroots Societat Civil Catalana, who put turnout at more than 1 million, although police said it was only 300,000.

No incidents of violence were reported, but there were undercurrents of anger and frustration. Some were directed at the regional government, with marchers chanting “Prison for Puigdemont”, others at what they described as a climate of fear created by vocal and well-organised supporters of independence.

“I am tired of being looked at badly for wanting to be Spanish as well as Catalan,” said Caridad San José, a 33-year-old dental nurse helping to carry a vast Catalan flag – the official banner of the regional government not the Estelada of independence supporters – down the Passeig de Gracia.

Like many on the march, she has family roots outside the region but was born in Catalonia, grew up there speaking Catalan and resents having her Catalan identity questioned.

“If you say you don’t want an independent Catalonia, you are called a fascist, a hangover from the Franco era. [The independence movement] is like a sect.”

Pharmacist Angel Pena, 58, was particularly angry at being attacked as a fascist, because of his family history. “My whole family are left wing, my grandfather was executed by fascists, shot in the head. But now if you don’t support independence, you are labelled a fascist.”

He came out to protest because he was frightened about rifts opening up in the Catalonia he moved to as a child and has considered his home ever since.

“This is breaking apart families, friendships of 20, 30 years,” he said. “I have a brother who I can’t speak to about this, he’s from [the western Spanish region of] Extremadura just like me, but supports independence.”

Calls for unity, and an end to rifts that have split one of the most prosperous parts of Spain, also came from the platform.

“I’m here to speak in the name of coexistence and mutual respect,” said Francisco Frutos, former secretary general of the Spanish Communist party.

He following up with a mocking declaration of guilt, aimed at hardline pro-independence groups who have accused their opponents of betraying Catalonia. “Yes, I’m a traitor – a traitor to the cause of identity-based racism.”


Emma Graham-Harrison and Stephen Burgen in Barcelona

The GuardianTramp

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