Read in Catalan

The situation in Catalonia and its conflict with the Spanish state made strong appearances in the speech king Felipe VI gave on Monday in Barcelona, in the middle of a Spanish general election campaign heavily polarised over the pro-independence challenge. The royal family was attending the prize-giving ceremony for the Princess of Girona Foundation Awards. Whilst protests continued in the streets, requiring the closure of Diagonal avenue, one of the largest streets in Barcelona, the monarch evoked Catalonia's role during Spain's transition to democracy after the Franco dictatorship and warned that there is no place for "either violence nor intolerance nor disdain for the rights and freedoms of others".

The monarch, who unhesitatingly took on the narrative of violence in Catalonia wielded by pro-union parties, was applauded by those present, who didn't include any representative of the current Catalan government nor Barcelona's mayor, Ada Colau. The highest-ranking Catalan figures to attend were former president José Montilla and the president of the Deputation of Barcelona, Núria Marín.

The king gave his call against intolerance in Catalan, in the final part of his speech. He emphasised Catalonia's "inspiring contribution" to Spain's democratic project, "a Catalonia proud of the signs of its identity, plural and inclusive, constructive and supportive of general progress." "A Catalonia", he continued, "in which effort, responsibility, commitment, respect and civic spirit enriched the roots of the democratic society we enjoy today."

He said these values represent "the best history of Catalonia" and "cannot nor should they be a memory of the past, but an effective reality of our present and our future."

Whilst the king was speaking, he was watched from the stage by the prize-winners, including Xavier Ros-Oton, who was wearing a yellow ribbon on his lapel. Organisers tried to discourage him from wearing the symbol of support for the pro-independence prisoners, but in the end he decided to wear it during the ceremony before taking it off for the reception afterwards.

During his speech, Felipe VI evoked Spain's transition to democracy as a time when the population decided to "come back together to live together and in freedom under democratic principles." "Recognising the value of its diversity and confronting [the challenge of] overcoming the past and constructing a modern and advanced society, integrated in Europe and open to the world, with loyalty and trust," he added.

An important presence

The king didn't hide the complexity of the situation surrounding his trip to Barcelona. "There are moments when a presence acquires more important meaning than words; when through attitudes we also express deep feelings and convictions. And today is one of these occasions, one of these important occasions," he said.

The king spoke after his daughter Leonor, first in line to the throne, who gave her first speech in Catalan, leading him to joke that "she's left a challenge [for me]".

After the ceremony, Felipe VI took part in a reception with the prize-winners and members of the audience, surrounded by a constant crowd of arms trying to take selfies. The royals then left the Palau de Congressos by the back door, the same way they'd arrived, leading to the garden of the Juan Carlos I hotel where they were staying.