(Note: This article was originally published in February, 2013.)
Since September 11, 1714, as a consequence of a military defeat, Catalonia has formed part of the Kingdom of Spain. And each September 11 we commemorate our National Day, not to remember our defeat, but on the contrary, to remember that despite the defeat, and the subsequent suffering and the attempts to wipe us out, we continue to exist. During the almost 300 years that Catalonia has lived as part of the Spanish State, we have tried several times to recover our national freedoms that we lost by force of arms, but it hasn’t been until now, in the 21st century, that we have had the political, social, cultural, and economic conditions necessary to achieve independence.
On September 11, 2012, more than 1.5 million people came out on the streets of Barcelona to demonstrate behind a placard that read Catalonia: New State in Europe. A demonstration of 1.5 million people in a country of 7.5 million inhabitants can easily be qualified as one of the largest, if not the largest, in history. And if we add to this the fact that the demonstration was celebrated in an absolutely democratic and peaceful manner, and that it was convoked by the civil society, it is even more extraordinary.
This demonstration was in fact convoked and organized by the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), an entity formed by people of various ideologies and different social classes that pursue a common objective: the independence of Catalonia. We plan to dissolve once we have achieved our goal. The Assembly was formally constituted six months before the demonstration, on March 10, 2012, even though we were working on this project a full two years earlier. I was invited to join by Miquel Strubell, one of the founders of the Assembly, when there were only 20 members.
From the very beginning, we were clear that the goal of the ANC was to achieve Catalonia’s independence, and thus the only thing that we had to decide was how and when. To do so, we elaborated a road map which explained the steps necessary for reaching our goal. One of the first proposals that emerged was organizing a demonstration on September 11, Catalonia’s National Day, or Diada. We wanted to have a different kind of Diada, where for the first time the independentist political parties and the civic organizations could come together in a joint demonstration, instead of everyone having their own separate ones, as in previous years.
We knew that the demonstration had to be unified, massive, and peaceful and that we had to get all the parties and organizations together that were in favor of creating our own state in order to show the strength of our national objective, both to ourselves and to the world. The Government of Catalonia publicly asked that our demonstration be in support of the fiscal pact—an economic proposal that they were trying to negotiate that very month with the Spanish government. The ANC decided against the request. We had already decided that we would only come out to demand independence, we had already approved such an act in our constituent assembly—it was part of our road map—and we were convinced that that was what the people of Catalonia wanted.
It was important that once September 11 was over, the message in favor of independence would remain clear and convincing. We needed to show the world that we wanted our own state and we could only do so if we remained firm in our objective of having a demonstration with the lemma that everyone had already agreed on. We knew that the demonstration was going to be very important because from all over the country we were getting reports that they were filling up buses for Barcelona. There were so many enthusiastic and hopeful people in all of our meetings held to explain why we wanted independence and to invite people to march with us. Our intuition told us the march would be very successful.
Even so, we worried about the turnout. It was important that it be a significant march, the biggest one in Catalonia’s history. Even though there had already been very large marches in Barcelona—-always to defend our national rights—this one had to be even bigger. We had to demonstrate that a majority of Catalans were in favor of independence. Our other worry and, indeed my biggest worry, was guaranteeing the safety of all of the marchers. Everything had to be peaceful and festive. We knew that if there were any incidents, the goal of the march would be blurred, and the image that would be seen and that the world would remember would be that of violent incidents or -counter-demonstrators. But our fears were unfounded. Everything turned out as we hoped, and the Catalan people proved its great maturity and civility.
We had written a letter to the president of the Government and to the president of the Parliament asking that we be received at the end of the march so that we could share with them our road map, whose most important milestone was our proposal to hold a referendum in which the Catalan people could decide its own future. Only the president of the Parliament agreed to meet us after the demonstration. However, we knew that if the march was important enough, the president of the Government would also meet with us, if not that same day, then soon after. That’s exactly what happened.
Two days later we met with President Artur Mas and had a very cordial meeting. We explained that we were happy to work toward independence and to support the Government as long as they showed that they were also in favor of working toward having a sovereign state. The president explained that he had made a previous commitment together with the Catalan Parliament to go to Madrid to speak with the president of the Spanish government, in order to negotiate a fiscal pact, in an attempt to end the fiscal plundering that Catalonia has suffered for many years.
For the ANC, the trip to Madrid didn’t make any sense. We considered it a waste of time, but we respected the president’s decision. We spoke for a long time about the timeline that should be dedicated to these negotiations before continuing our demands and demonstrations in favor of a sovereign state. All of us believed that President Rajoy, the president of the Spanish government, would ask for time to study the proposal and the ANC didn’t want this period of time to drag out more than two months. Luckily for us, Mr. Rajoy roundly refused to negotiate a fair fiscal agreement for Catalonia and this clear refusal changed our history by pushing President Mas—who already felt pressured by the march and without any viable alternative that justified continuing the government—to convoke snap elections, which would be celebrated two months later, on November 25.
These were elections in which the political parties had to make their positions clear, since the people were demanding to know where each party stood, if they were in favor or if they were against having a referendum on the independence of Catalonia. During these elections, the people of Catalonia again demonstrated that they wanted a sovereign state—the first and second most voted parties in the elections are in favor—and now we have a Government that is committed to holding a referendum. The Catalan National Assembly is committed to supporting the government in holding a referendum. We will continue to work on our road map that, now that the Government has taken on the goal of having a referendum, is especially focused on widening the social majority in favor of independence. If necessary, we will return to the streets to continue our struggle in favor of the freedom of our people.
In Catalonia, we are living one of the most exhilarating years in our history. It will be a hard, difficult, complicated year, because we are suffering a financial crisis together with the rest of Southern Europe, exacerbated by the economic asphyxiation that Catalonia suffers at the hands of the Spanish government. Despite everything, we Catalans are excited and hopeful for the future because, for the first time, we are in reach of a dream that so many Catalans share: that we can recover the freedom that we lost almost 300 years ago. The Spanish State has said that we cannot hold a referendum, that we cannot decide our own future because it is illegal, because the Spanish laws don’t allow it. Indeed, many of these Spanish laws, the Constitution included, were made expressly so that Catalans could not decide our own future. They were created to suppress the minority.
For the Catalan National Assembly, the arguments of the Spanish State against celebrating a referendum have no validity. Laws can be changed. Indeed, if they could not be changed, women would still not be allowed to vote, because that too was once illegal. Laws must be at the service of the people. Democracy is above individual laws.
Catalonia is a Mediterranean country, between Spain and France, that wants to decide its future in a completely democratic and peaceful way, just as we have demonstrated to the world. Our perseverance and will to exist are so strong that even after 300 years of domination our dreams of liberty remain strong and steadfast. We want to become one of the free people of the world and we are confident that we can achieve that goal with the support of the other people in the world who in their own time were able to achieve their own goals of independence and their own dream of freedom.
Degrees in Philosophy and Communication Sciences from the Autonomous University of Barcelona and Masters in Catalan Philology. Professor of Secondary Teacher Education. Since 1985, Forcadell has worked in the Department of Education, as coordinator of linguistic normalization for the Catalan Teaching Service and currently as consultant on language, interculturalism, and social cohesion for the Western Vallès area. She has published several books on pedagogy, together with other authors, as well as a dictionary. She has written for several media publications. She has been active over the years in various organizations and is currently the president of the Catalan National Assembly.