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The president of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), Dolors Feliu, says that every pro-independence demonstration on the Diada, Catalonia's National Dayis different. And she's right. In the last three years, there has been one defined by the absence of independence activists in the context of the pandemic that in 2020 made any mass mobilization impossible; one that exceeded attendance expectations with masks still mandatory; and now the latest one, this coming September 11th, when, for the first time in years, the president of the Generalitat Pere Aragonès will not participate in the mobilization because it goes "against the parties and not against the Spanish state", a line supported by the ERC party leadership. On the other hand, the Junts party will be there, and so will the CUP.  Speaking to in Barcelona this week, Dolors Feliu defended herself against the accusations by saying the ANC has often been critical of the parties in the past too, applying pressure so that politicians carry out independence. She calls for a great mobilization this Sunday.

The figure of 400,000 people on the march last year was higher than many expected. Will there also be a positive surprise this year?
We hope so, because the people are out there, they want to do things. Sometimes they are angry or don't see a clear way out, but they do want independence. We expect a very good turnout.  ​​

There does, however, seem to be a certain demobilization among the independence movement.
We believe we have already bottomed out. We have been through many years of repression, with a pandemic that has also kept us at home. It's a good time to resume and go back to the streets because we are not done, because independence is still to be done, and independence is perfectly possible and feasible. It is only up to us to carry it forward. I want to highlight that a few days ago we received very good news from the United Nations Human Rights Committee declaring that the suspension of pro-independence politicians from their posts in 2017 was totally in breach of fundamental rights. Because an independence carried out democratically and peacefully must be able to exist within a world in which democratic principles prevail.

On other occasions, the demonstrations organized by the Catalan National Assembly for the Diada have had a more festive component. This year, on the other hand, the message that you are seeking to transmit seems to be that we should get serious?
That's kind of the idea. This year we have the black colour on the shirt, which we had never worn before, a color that is vindictive and combative, without surrender, a colour that many forces already use to show this serious standing their ground and a readiness to struggle. Each demonstration has had a different spirit, and this one too, with a feature that is not so festive, but much more vindictive and serious, of 'we want to do it'. And if the parties do not get involved then we will have to take measures to be the ones who, with the support of the people, can achieve independence from a democratic and peaceful mobilization point of view.

Dolors Feliu, presidenta de l'ANC / Foto: Joan Mateu Parra
Dolors Feliu, president of the ANC / Photo: Joan Mateu Parra

So, the importance of this Diada is that people mobilize again and regain the leadership from the parties?
Obviously, the people must regain strength and take the reins of the independence movement to order for it to be done. The parties are where they are precisely because of people voted for them, and the people are the important element. Parties are nothing without the people, and therefore the people must be aware of this power they have. The parties will see some voters who say what they want very specifically, and who call for an end to be achieved which was the reason that exercised their right to vote. The independence movement and the pro-independence parties are where they are precisely because they talked about independence and said they would carry out independence. If we don't go out to ask for this in the streets, we will obviously be allowing ourselves to be represented by politicians that at this moment do not have independence on the table.

So this year's demonstration, does it go against the parties?
I wouldn't say 'against' because they also have their programme for moving towards independence. But we want to spur them on and tell them very clearly that, if they don't do it, people won't be on their side to keep carrying out policies of 'if you waste a day, the year slips by' without achieving the goal they were voted in for, which is independence.

What position should the political representatives occupy in the demonstration?
Politicians are citizens of this country. Many of them have personally stated publicly that they want independence. They are also invited to come to the September 11th demonstration, but as the people that they are, as people who want independence. We believe that it is precisely the people who must ask for independence, and the parties must have no place in this demonstration except as people who also want it. We understand that it is the strength of the people that must have the prominence.

The Assembly has often shown criticism in what it has done in the Diada demonstration, it has applied pressure to carry out independence. 

Then the main idea behind the mobilization is the will to put pressure on the parties.
Someone behind them who clearly tells them 'If you don't do it, we will. Don't think you'll have our captive vote forever.' Until now, there was the idea of ​​complaining to the parties, but we have reached a point where we say 'We will not remain slaves to what you decide, but rather, new options will emerge'. We will find a way to make voting serve to reach independence, if it's what the people want, if it is what the grass roots wants, if the people come out on September 11th and we have a clear determination by the population.

So this attempt to pressure the parties led the president of Catalonia to announce his absence from the demonstration. Were you surprised that he stepped away?
The Assembly has often shown criticism in what it has done in the Diada demonstration, it has applied pressure to carry out independence. So that critical tone has always been there. Before announcing it, he already started to say that he was thinking about it, and finally he said he wasn't coming. But we don't really know how all this controversy has been articulated, which is a little strange considering that this critical spirit has always inspired the Catalan National Day demonstrations. And indeed, the reason we have made progress is because of this, because of this critical and forceful spirit, this message to the parties, and more so when they bring independence into their programme. 

Does the ANC plan to change the message of the demonstration so that Pere Aragonès and the ERC leadership attend?
No, our critical sense is always there. We call on everyone to participate in the Diada, but our critical sense of the current autonomous community structure of our government is there, and it will be there on September 11th as well. The demonstration is for independence and to push for it to happen.