After 2017’s independence attempt and a crackdown by Spanish authorities, has support for independence in Catalonia declined.

Spanish media reported in late August that the number of people registered to attend the Diada, a rally held in Spain’s northeastern region of Catalonia on September 11 to celebrate cultural heritage - and in recent years, national aspirations – had dropped by 25 percent.

Elements in Catalonia have been in a cold struggle with Spain to attain independence since 2017. Catalonia held an independence referendum in October of that year, viewed as illegal by the Spanish government. 

Over 90 percent voted in favour of independence, though less than 50 percent of voters cast a ballot. The referendum was stopped by Spanish national police in an operation that involved the use of “excessive force”, according to Human Rights Watch.   

Later that month, the regional Catalan parliament declared independence from Spain, which resulted in the region's autonomy being suspended, with its leaders jailed or fleeing.

Support for independence has for years been gauged by the attendance of the Diada, held on September 11.

The news sparked concern among pro-independence Catalans that support for independence was waning.  

But according to the Catalan National Assembly (ANC, by their Catalan acronym), the group that organises the Diada, support is rising.

When asked for comment on reports of a lower number of registered attendees, a spokesperson for the ANC said “we have more people registered than last year …  and there are at least 490 buses booked to come to Barcelona for the Diada.”

The ANC initially attributed the drop in confirmed attendance to the lack of performances during this year’s march. “Therefore, people did not see any need to sign up”, the ANC told TRT World.

Separate history

Catalonia has its own history as a separate kingdom, culture and language. However, all of these unique elements were suppressed, along with cultures and languages that differed from the Castilian – or Spanish – majority, enforced by fascist dictator Francisco Franco.

Franco ruled Spain from 1939 until his death in 1975. His death set in motion Spain’s transition to democracy, which was completed by 1982 when the first national democratic elections took place.

However, much of Spain’s repressive history was swept under the rug in favour of the democratic transition, which had to appease those wronged by the dictatorship and those who still supported Franco’s vision.

Economic and social grievances

While the memories of Franco’s rule hang heavy in Catalonia, there is another reason many call for independence: taxes.

Many pro-independence Catalans have said Spain treats the region as a “colony”, using its status as an economic powerhouse to extract tax revenue used for other regions, while Catalonia’s infrastructure and other public goods are neglected.

Catalonia's economic output in 2016 was 223bn euros ($246bn), the highest in Spain. Barcelona, the region’s capital, is home to Spain's most financially successful port.

Arturo Mas, the former regional president of Catalonia who resigned amid a corruption scandal in told CNN in 2012 that "if you compare the money we send to Madrid every year and the money we get back from Madrid, there is a difference - a near difference of $20bn".

Since the 2017 declaration of independence, numerous Catalan politicians have fled the country – including the former president, Carles Puigdemont – and other political and social leaders have been imprisoned since 2017, pending the verdict of a trial in front of the Spanish Supreme Court.

A total of 18 people – which includes most of Puigdemont’s former cabinet, such as former regional Vice President Oriol Junqueras – and two members of pro-independence civil society, are being tried in relation to the 2017 referendum and independence decree.

The ANC’s former president Jordi Sanchez is among those tried.  

They face varying charges of rebellion, disobedience and misuse of public funds. The charges could result in as many as 26 years behind bars for the most severe.

The trial ended in June, without a date set for the delivery of the verdict, though it is expected for the fall. Rights groups have expressed concern over the charges and pre-trial detention for some of the accused.

The Spanish government did not respond to a request for comment.

Diada’s future

Whether or not the verdict is delivered before the Diada, the ANC is sure turnout for the Diada will be substantial.

The ANC told TRT World that “the sale of [pro-independence] t-shirts have already reached 190,000” which was more than last year, and “since this year's confirmed attendees number was published, the rate of registration has increased a lot, and people have responded by registering massively.

“For all these reasons, then, we again foresee a massive day in favour of Independence”, the ANC concluded.

Source: TRT World