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Despite a week of tension within the independence movement - between the civil society body, Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and the governing pro-independence political party, the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) - the former stuck firmly to the demands it was intending to voice in this Sunday's rally of the Catalan independence movement. "Either take us to independence, or call elections", demanded the body's president, Dolors Feliu, from a stage painted black and featuring the slogan "Let's go for it again and win", while the crowd erupted in chants of "Government, resign!" The commitment that the Catalan president, Pere Aragonès, had made public the evening before to hold a new referendum was of little use: the mass rally of this year's National Day of Catalonia, or Diada, once again ended up condensing the grass-roots uneasiness towards all the pro-independence parties - even though Junts and the CUP, present among the marchers, pretended to look the other way - and against the Catalan government.

The tone only hardened when it was noted that, despite the ill-feeling and sense of demobilization in the pro-independence ranks, and despite the undisguised hostility with which ERC responded to the criticism from the ANC - or perhaps precisely because of this - the Assembly had managed to bring together 700,000 people, according to the organizers, and 150,000, according to the Barcelona police, thus signifying that, despite not having the support of the leading pro-independence party, they exceeded the participation in last year's rally, which in its moment had claimed the title of the largest protest in Europe since the Covid health crisis.

This was, however, only the final denoument of a Diada in which the tension between the pro-independence forces remained constant in the most emblematic events, and materialized in whistling against ERC on the night before the National Day, in the commemoration at Barcelona's Fossar de les Moreres, as well as booing at another part of the day's ritual events, the morning floral offerings at the Rafael Casanova monument.


Shared strategies

The exception was the event organized by the other major civil group, Òmnium Cultural, at Passeig Lluís Companys, which was attended by president Aragonès as well as all the parties. "At what point did we forget what we were fighting for?" asked the president of Òmnium, Xavier Antich, during his speech at that event, in which he advocated for a new strategic framework to overcome formulas that have not worked. "As long as we are not able to sew shared strategies together, we will not be able to get out of the current phase of paralysis. Before this self-destructive trend consolidates, we must reverse it," he warned.

The head of Òmnium did not shy away from the controversy caused by the ANC's manifesto for the event. In fact, he not only distanced himself from the criticism of the parties which the Assembly had led, but also warned against the "populist temptation of anti-politics".

A civic electoral candidacy

However, this Sunday evening, Feliu went back to the subject in her speech at the end of the Diada demonstration. And not only that, the president of the ANC asked the politicians for "sincerity, courage and determination" to get to independence. "And if they don't do it, we are determined to do it ourselves, using the elections, with new actors if necessary", she warned before insisting that "there is enough depth to present a civic candidacy" - which would compete with the established parties for votes. Among the public, along the whole route of the demonstration, there were frequent chants critical of the parties and the Catalan government. "Without politicians we would already be independent", read one placard which a protester displayed in front of the stage, while another declared "ERC, Junts, CUP. We will not vote for you again. Traitors".

diada nacional catalunya himne cantan xavier antich dolors feliu / Foto: Montse Giralt
The representatives of the AMI, Òmnium and the ANC at the final speeches for the Diada march / Foto: Montse Giralt

Amidst the tension, it was almost impossible to hear the call made by the president of the Assembly of Municipalities for Independence (AMI), Jordi Gaseni - also an ERC politician - to put aside the complaints, stop looking for culprits, and rather, look forward. By the end of the event and after the Assembly's display of strength in its contention with ERC, the break between the ANC and the political parties had been sealed. Also between the civil groups - with such discrepancies in their discourse, they were unable to disguise a certain reluctance in the final joint photograph.

While people were leaving the Passeig del Marquès d'Argentera, where the political speeches were given, there was still time for one last gesture. A group of people dressed in black, the colour of today's demonstration, unfurled a large banner amid applause from those who were still present. "Traitors, history will judge you", they proclaimed.

diada nacional catalunya botiflers escenari estació França / Foto: Montse Giralt
Banner against the political parties at the end of the Diada march / Photo: Montse Giralt