Spanish unionists - the supporters of continued Catalan union with Spain - filled Barcelona's Passeig de Gràcia this Sunday, in a rally called by the anti-independence group Societat Civil Catalana (SCC), but they failed to achieve anything like the exhibition they were seeking. The push given by the Spanish government and all the unionist parties - including the far-right party Vox, which had been excluded by the organization but simply turned up at the rally - was not enough. Barcelona's Guàrdia Urbana police estimated the attendance at 80,000, a small fraction of the turnout figure of 350,000 it gave for the SCC demonstration two years ago. Speakers at the end of the rally asserted that there were 400,000 people present. All this occurs the day after the protest against the Supreme Court sentences organized by the pro-independence organizations which, according to the Guardia Urbana, drew 350,000 people.
In spite of the commitment of the unionist parties to the march, the political groups were not given a place in the photo-friendly front line of the march, but several of the leaders, including Pablo Casado of Popular Party (PP), Albert Rivera and Inés Arrimadas of Ciudadanos (Cs), and Barcelona city councillor Manuel Valls, were all struggling to be seen in the second row, behind the banner with its slogan "For concord, for Catalonia: Enough!"
On the other hand, the Catalan Socialists (PSC) avoided the joint photo with the rest of the parties. Spanish cabinet ministers José Luis Ábalos and Josep Borrell, along with PSC leader Miquel Iceta, marched down Passeig de Gràcia at some distance from the head of the protest and left the rally before reaching the stage where there was an area reserved for political representatives.
The demonstration, which took place at midday on a sunny Sunday in Barcelona, began on Carrer Mallorca and was to descend as far as Gran Via. It was difficult, because people filled the central part of the boulevard in front of the marchers, holding them up. Among the public were many families and young people, many Spanish flags, also those of the Civil Guard, the Spanish National police and the Spanish Legion.
Chants heard included "Put Puigdemont in prison", "Barcelona is not to be burnt", "It's Spanish pride", "I'm Spanish, Spanish, Spanish" ... and acclamations of support for the Civil Guard and Spanish police were constant. The crowd also chanted that "here the press don't wear helmets", although there were special chants for Catalan public broadcaster TV3 - frequently accused of indoctrination and bias by unionists - and TV3 workers ended up having a bottle of water thrown at them.
"President, put out the ballot boxes!"
Once the head of the march reached the stage, SCC president Fernando Sánchez Costa told the asembled crowd that there is an invisible Catalonia which has now become visible, and he mimicked the call for a referendum made years ago by the now-jailed pro-independence politician Carme Forcadell, but this time calling for Catalan president Quim Torra to call a Catalan election: "President, put out the ballot boxes!".
Sánchez Costa called for an end to "the endless night" and the "labyrinth of shadows" which in his view the independence process represents. "Let's say "enough!" to this rosary of promises which were impossible and never kept. We can't do it anymore," he declared.
He asserted that the independence movement had not achieved any of its objectives, and that dialogue must take place within the framework of the law. But he also sent a message to Spain: "Don't abandon us." He warned the Spanish parties that Catalan unionists will not accept being "a bargaining chip," they won't accept an agreement between the elites. "We will no longer allow 'Catalonia' to be confused with 'the nationalists'," he stated.
The SCC's manifesto, expressing itself in similar terms, was read in four languages.
After further interventions, and few incidents, the act ended with the singing of the anthems of Catalonia, the EU, and Spain.