Some 600,000 people took part in the annual Catalan separatist demonstration in Barcelona on Wednesday, a figure that was down from last year’s one million, the municipal police said on its Twitter account.
This is the lowest turnout since the first major independence mobilisation in 2012 on the day of the Diada, Catalonia ‘s national day which commemorates the fall of Barcelona in 1714 against the troops of Philip V.
This decline in participation is a setback for separatists who wanted to show their ability to mobilise before the sentence hearing in October for the 12 Catalan leaders tried for their role in the 2017 independence referendum.
In prison for for nearly two years, they face heavy sentences, up to 25 years for former Regional Vice President Oriol Junqueras.
But two years after the illegal vote on self-determination, the separatist camp is undermined by divisions.
Former regional president Carles Puigdemont of Together for Catalonia advocates a peaceful “confrontation” with Madrid through civil disobedience while the Republican Left of Catalonia’s Oriol Junqueras favours a more moderate approach of dialogue with the central government.
Marching under the slogan “Objective Independence”, the event started at 5:14 pm, referring to 1714 with participants carrying Catalan flags and portraits of those whom the separatists call “political prisoners” such as Junqueras.
On Tuesday Catalonia’s pro-independence regional president, Quim Torra, urged people to “take to the streets and squares to proclaim our full and non-negotiable commitment to democracy, to social, civil and political rights, and to the flag of freedom, always and everywhere”.
“Today, we will show the world again that we persist despite the repression,” Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium in 2017, said on Twitter.
Speaking at Madrid’s Chamber of Deputies, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said he hoped “one day the Diada will be the feast of all Catalans and not just a part of independence”.
Catalan society being deeply divided on the question of independence. According to a recent survey by the regional government, 48.3 percent of Catalans are opposed to independence while 44 percent are in favour.