Around a million people – the equivalent of two-thirds of Barcelona’s population – filled the Vía Laietana en route to the Avenida Marqués de Argentera from the Plaza Urquinaona, and was joined by high-ranking members of the right-wing PP, the left-wing socialists (PSOE) and centre-right Ciudadanos at all levels from city council to regional government.
Despite its sheer size, the demonstration was peaceful – at least, in terms of no trouble occurring, if not in volume – and took on a carnival atmosphere with music and dance.
Reports claim Peruvian Nobel Literature Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa – now resident in Spain ahead of his imminent marriage to socialite and model Isabel Preysler, ex-wife of Julio Iglesias – was near the front of the throng.
A gigantic banner reading ‘Enough already! Let’s get sensible again’ (¡Basta! Recuperemos la sensatez) was carried at the head of the march, and smaller ones borne by protesters read: ‘I’m Spanish’, ‘Puigdemont in prison’, and ‘Long live Spain, long live Catalunya and long live the Guardia Civil’.
Marchers carried Spanish and EU flags, and the Catalunya regional flag, known as the Estelada, as well as the Valencian version, the Senyera.
High-profile politicians included Catalunya-born national health minister Dolors Montserrat, Parliamentary spokesman Rafael Hernando, Madrid regional president Cristina Cifuentes, and national and regional figureheads such as Andrea Levy – not to be confused with the best-selling author – Pablo Casado, Enric Millo, Xavier García Albiol and Javier Arenas, all from the PP.
For Ciudadanos, national leader Albert Rivera – who is native to Catalunya – regional leader Inés Arrimadas, plus José Manuel Villegas, Fernando de Páramo, Carlos Carrizosa and Begoña Villacís were seen.
Socialists included Salvador Illa, Josep Borrell and Celestino Corbacho.
Mario Vargas Llosa read a speech accusing regional president Carles Puigdemont, his second-in-command Oriol Junqueras and minister Carme Forcadell of staging a coup d’état, and stating the the ‘pro-independence spell’ would ‘not destroy 500 years of history’ in Spain, nor turn it into ‘a third-world country’.
Josep Borrell’s speech proclaimed ‘Catalunya is not a colony, nor a State under military occupation’ – the normal prerequisites for a region to secede and be recognised as a separate country under international law – and urged Puigdemont ‘not to push the country over a precipice’.
“If Puigdemont declares independence unilaterally, the country [for Catalunya] will go down the pan,” Borrell warned.
Dolors Montserrat, the only Catalunya-born national government minister at present, stressed that the State would ‘not abandon’ any catalán and said she was ‘confident’ that the demonstration would ‘put a stop to all this independence nonsense’.
A manifestation read out on behalf of the general public spoke of ‘marginalisation’ of ‘non-nationalist’ catalanes, pointing out that those natives of and residents in Catalunya who did not agree with independence are being pushed aside.
Ciudadanos’ leader Albert Rivera, with a hint of irony, thanked Puigdemont, Oriol Junqueras and the main pro-secession party CUP for having ‘united the whole of Spain’ – referring to political differences outside Catalunya having been put on the back burner as all colours pull together in protest over the region’s independence – and called for a new round of ballot papers, this time in a snap regional election in Catalunya.