Col•lectiu Emma had anticipated in its latest editorial [http://www.collectiuemma.cat/editorial/1671/no-news-from-catalonia] a massive mobilization in Catalonia on September 11. On their National Day, the Catalan people intended to call the world’s attention to the struggle they’re leading to have their collective rights recognized by the Spanish state. The result exceeded all expectations. Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children –some estimates put their numbers at over 1.6 million– stood holding hands along a 400-kilometer (250 miles) route spanning the administrative boundaries of Catalonia. Their demand was a referendum on independence in 2014.
Representatives of media organizations from dozens of countries had a chance to witness this stunning Catalan Way. Most of their reports stressed the peaceful atmosphere and the flawless organization. Many expressed admiration for the show of dignity, civility and determination given by the Catalan people. The only violent incident of the day took place when a right-wing squad stormed into the Catalan Cultural Center in Madrid trying to stop the celebration being held there, pushing people around, smashing the furniture and shouting Spanish nationalist slogans.
Once again the accounts and interpretations provided by Spanish sources were totally different from those coming from the rest of the world. Reflecting a widespread attitude in Spain, Madrid-based media made an effort to downplay the event’s importance, misinterpreting its meaning and refusing to draw any lessons from it.
This inability to face uncomfortable facts is also apparent in the Spanish government’s reaction. Most recently, on September 14, President Mariano Rajoy gave his answer to a letter sent by Catalan President Artur Mas on July 26 officially requesting a negotiation that would lead to a referendum on Catalonia’s political future.
Despite generic offers of an open-ended dialogue, Mr. Rajoy’s reply is essentially a restatement of the government’s uncompromising stance. Applying a mixture of conciliatory words, plain warnings and delaying tactics, it skirts around the main issue of allowing the people to express themselves. This has been rightly interpreted by most international observers as a rejection of the latest Catalan proposal and as one more opportunity that the Spanish establishment has chosen to let pass.
On this matter too, Spain seems to be dangerously out of touch with the world’s opinion. The Financial Times spelled it out quite clearly in a September 12 editorial: “This problem is not going away. The question is whether it can be resolved politically before it turns into a constitutional crisis.”
And, from halfway around the world, The Economic Times of India asked a few days ago two very relevant questions that the Spanish powers that be would do well to consider: “Will Spain show the democratic maturity to allow this democratic referendum in Catalonia? Will it be necessary that the international community takes part in the negotiations?”