News / Europe

Catalans Form Human Chain to Press for Independence From Spain

Catalan separatist flags are waved as a crowd forms a human chain to mark the "Diada de Catalunya" [Catalonia's National Day] in central Barcelona, September 11, 2013.
Catalan separatist flags are waved as a crowd forms a human chain to mark the "Diada de Catalunya" [Catalonia's National Day] in central Barcelona, September 11, 2013.
TEXT SIZE - +
Reuters
— Hundreds of thousands of Catalans held hands in a 400-kilometer human chain across their region on Wednesday to press the Spanish government to let them vote on breaking away and forming their own country.

Demonstrators in yellow T-shirts, and draped in blue, red and yellow separatist banners raised their joined hands through cities and along rural roads, jumping and shouting in celebration when the chain was completed.

“We want a referendum to see whether there's majority support for independence. The problem is Spain won't listen. Our only hope... is that Europe and the rest of the world put pressure on the Spanish government,” said Ester Sarramona, a 39-year-old civil servant.

Sarramona, her husband and their children joined the chain in the heart of Barcelona, Catalonia's capital. Like many other Catalans, they said their region was treated unfairly over taxes and cultural issues such as the Catalan language, despite having significant self-governing powers.

Catalan separatist flags are waved as a crowd forms a human chain to mark the "Diada de Catalunya" [Catalonia's National Day] in central Barcelona, September 11, 2013.Catalan separatist flags are waved as a crowd forms a human chain to mark the "Diada de Catalunya" [Catalonia's National Day] in central Barcelona, September 11, 2013.
x
Catalan separatist flags are waved as a crowd forms a human chain to mark the "Diada de Catalunya" [Catalonia's National Day] in central Barcelona, September 11, 2013.
Catalan separatist flags are waved as a crowd forms a human chain to mark the "Diada de Catalunya" [Catalonia's National Day] in central Barcelona, September 11, 2013.
A deep recession and cuts in public spending in Catalonia, a wealthy industrial region in the northeast that accounts for a fifth of Spain's economic output, have stirred discontent with the central government in Madrid.

Polls show backing for secession has risen steadily in Catalonia, with some registering support as high as 50 percent.

Growing separatism in the region of 7.5 million people has become a headache for Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who is mired in a corruption scandal and trying to pull Spain out of recession while pushing through unpopular spending cuts.

Pyrenees to Vanecia

The demonstration, on Catalan national day, aimed to draw international attention to the independence movement.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Catalan President Artur Mas met in secret in August and have indicated they could continue negotiations to end a year-long standoff over the referendum and greater tax powers for the region.

Rajoy says a referendum on Catalan independence would be unconstitutional and has pledged to block it in the courts.

“If we don't get a referendum people will just get more frustrated,” said Bernat Cabero, a sculptor who lives in France and traveled home to Catalonia for the demonstration.

Organizers said more than half a million joined in and accomplished their goal of forming an unbroken line from the Pyrenees in the north to the border with Valencia in the south. Television footage showed huge segments of the line of people.

Traffic clogged highways as police cut some roads. After the chain was formed, the peaceful demonstration quickly broke up and everyone headed home.

The only reported trouble came when around 20 far-right demonstrators, shouting slogans in favor of Spanish unity, set off a teargas-like substance at one Catalan celebration, said local media. Five people needed treatment.

The human chain inspired by a similar event in 1989 that helped the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania win independence from the Soviet Union.

Catalan separatists are also watching closely a planned September 2014 Scottish referendum on independence from the United Kingdom, hoping it will promote the idea of self-determination for regions within European Union countries.

Catalans have nurtured a separate identity for centuries, but an independence movement surged recently as many became disillusioned with limitations on the autonomy they gained in the late 1970s after the Francisco Franco dictatorship, which had suppressed Catalan nationalism.

Risky moves

Opponents of independence argue the region has never been an entirely separate state. The Medieval Principality of Catalonia came under the Crown of Aragon, though it was allowed to run its own affairs through an institution known as the Generalitat.

The human chain linked up on Wednesday at exactly 17:14, symbolizing the year 1714 when King Philip V abolished the Generalitat after the War of the Spanish Succession.

Catalan President Mas has threatened to call an early election and use it as a plebiscite on secession if Rajoy uses the courts to block a referendum. This is seen as a risky move as his political alliance has lost ground while a more leftist separatist party has won support in the past year.

Mas is in a delicate position because the Catalan budget hole is so big that the central government had to bail out the region last year.

“We are talking with the Spanish government but I have a lot of doubts over whether it will be fruitful,” Mas told foreign journalists on Wednesday morning.

Rajoy has limited room for maneuver as any offer to Catalonia of better fiscal treatment or more autonomy could spur protests in other autonomous regions such as the Basque Country.

You May Like

Multimedia Relatives of South Korean Ferry Victims Fire at Authorities

36 people are confirmed dead, but some 266 remain trapped on board More

War Legacy Haunts Vietnam, US Relations

$84 million project aims to clean up soil contaminated by Agent Orange More

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid