Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Catalans chant "independencia" on their national day

Finally on Wednesday the rain stopped, which was perfect timing for the torchlight parade from the lighthouse to El Port de la Selva. The parade marked the end of the Siege of Barcelona on September 11, 1714, a very important day in the history of Catalonia. Catalonia was a party in the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714), where the old crowns of Castile and Aragon fought over who should be crowned as king of Spain following the death of Charles II. Catalonia, which favoured archduke Charles as successor, was on the losing side in a war which ended with Europe recognising Philip V as the new king of Spain.

After months of resistance Barcelona finally surrendered on September 11, 1714. Modern Spain was born, but Catalonia was to pay a heavy price for its support for the Austrian candidate: Catalan language was forbidden and Catalan institutions abolished. Every year, on September 11, Catalans commemorate the day on which Barcelona fell, honouring those killed defending the country's laws and institutions.

In 1931 the Catalans regained their freedom with Catalan being taught in schools and Parliament reopened. Sadly, this was not to last. Catalunya once again found itself on the losing side, this time in the Spanish Civil War. The Franco dictatorship came down heavily on all things Catalan. It was forbidden to even speak Catalan, let alone teach it in the schools. Everything was governed from Madrid. The Civil War was a particularly bad time for El Port de la Selva, which was bombed twice.

It was quite magnificent watching the orange flames of the torches snake their way along the Ronda and then across the beach into town. Balconies and terraces were festooned with the red and yellow of the Catalan flag. In the central square red, yellow, blue and white candles were lit forming the Catalan independence flag. The mayor gave a speech followed by everyone passionately singing the Catalan hymn. I felt like I was in the middle of a scene in Les Miz. Over and over everyone chanted, "Independencia, Independencia."

The barbecue's had been fired up and now everyone formed an orderly line for a giant sausage on lovely, fresh crusty bread accompanied by a glass of red wine. We sat on one of the benches overlooking the beach and thoroughly enjoyed our food. Independencia.

Wednesday, September 11 dawned, Diada Nationale. Today was the day of the Catalan Way, where hands would be joined in a giant chain running from the French border in the north down to the province of Valencia in the south to mark solidarity for Catalan independence.

Following Franco's death Catalans regained some of their independence but today they give more to Spain financially than they get back thus spurring on the independence movement. When we returned from our coffee young and old were waiting for the bus to take them to the spot where they would join the human chain. In the square the sardana band was playing and people were performing the traditional Catalan dance, which is always performed on special holidays.

Not wanting to miss history int he making we decided that we would go into Figueres to see the human chain. There was great excitement as everyone was wearing their yellow Catalan T-shirts or sporting a yellow and red Catalan flag, sometimes both. Dogs were wearing Catalan neckerchief and even cows in the fields were draped with Catalan flags. What an atmosphere.  A drumming band provided entertainment as did a local Catalan castell group. These are the people that climb on top of one another forming human pyramids. They were quite spectacular. Even when they weren't performing they were always walking with someone standing on their shoulders.

As 15:14 approached everyone chanted the Independencia chant over and over while moving into an orderly line. A band stood behind the human chain and played the Catalan anthem. It was very moving to look up the street and see the red and yellow human chain. Photographers moved along the line taking pictures of the entire chain.

It was a lovely experience to see such a well organized event with people obviously enjoying themselves in a such a calm and friendly fashion. It will be interesting to see how the government in Madrid reacts to this show of Catalan solidarity.


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