The unionist movement has taken over the ceremony which Barcelona city council had organised for this morning in the city's plaça Catalunya in homage to the victims of the attacks on 17th August 2017. After pro-independence organisations had called for the event to not be politicised, attendees who showed up with Spanish flags took charge of avoiding a repetition of the scenes a year ago when Felipe VI and members of the then Spanish government were met with a loud ruckus at the same place.
To avoid incidents, neither the monarchs, nor prime minister Pedro Sánchez, took part in the earlier ceremony laying flowers on the Rambla with families of the victims. Nor did they attend the reception for the victims in the city hall, nor did they accompany them on the journey from there to the Rambla.
As such, Catalan president Quim Torra, the speaker of the Catalan Parliament, Roger Torrent, and the mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, headed the political delegation. Torra was accompanied by a large part of the Catalan government and the wife of minister Quim Forn, Laura Masvidal. After that first ceremony, the relatives and politicians went up the Rambla to plaça Catalunya in a bus.
The last to arrive for the main ceremony were king Felipe VI and queen Letizia. Once they had reached the VIP area, the protocol of greeting the royal couple started. This moment had piqued interest all morning, given that Torra had formally broken off Catalonia's relations with the crown earlier this year and made it clear that they wouldn't invite the king to any event his government organises, nor would they respond to any invitation from the royal household.
The king and Forn's wife
Despite this, Torra had announced he didn't plan to refuse to greet the king. After shaking the monarch's hand, he presented Laura Masvidal, explaining that she is the wife of the Catalan interior minister in charge of the police operation responding to the attack, currently in prison. Felipe VI greeted her with a serious expression, whilst Masvidal noted it shouldn't have been her there. The king immediately went to shake the speaker's hand, next to her.
Costa refuses to greet Felipe VI
The tension constantly present between the officials caused moments like the refusal of the Parliament's deputy speaker, Josep Costa, to shake the king's hand.
On the other hand, the king did hear shouts of support among the attendees, many of whom waving Spanish flags or with hats or parasols in its red and yellow. Others present called for silence and respect for the victims every time voices were raised in support of the king. Indeed, the enthusiasm of some of those present to laud the king led to the odd verbal confrontation.
On the northern side of the square, meanwhile, was a large poster with an upside-down image of the king with text saying that he is not welcome in the Catalan countries.
The ceremony, under the motto Barcelona, ciutat de pau (Barcelona, city of peace), was introduced by the journalist Gemma Nierga and included no political speeches. Nierga's decision to give a speech in Catalan, explaining that the ceremony's focus was on remembering the victims, drew protests from some attendees.
First, the song El Cant dels ocells was performed, followed by a reading of a meditation by John Donne in which he proclaimed, 400 years ago, that "every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main". The text was read in Catalan, Spanish, French, English, Portuguese, German and Italian, the languages of the sixteen who died in the attack.
Then, some fifty students from schools around the city played a variety of pieces. Whilst the main event took place, the Committees for the Defence of the Republic gathered at Drassanes, at the other end of the Rambla, before walking up the boulevard, without incidents.
After the ceremony, the king left the square the same way he'd arrived, whilst the politicians started giving their comments to the press.