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.
    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

    California Republicans Mull Choices in Presidential Race

    Ted Cruz tells state's Republican Convention delegates campaign will be 'battle on the ground, district by district by district,' ahead of June 7 primary

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, many Kurds are trying to escape turmoil by focusing on success of football team Amedspor

    South African Company Designs Unique Solar Cooker

    Two-man team of solar power technologists introduces Sol4, hot plate that heats up so fast it’s like cooking with gas or electricity

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora