Thousands of Catalan separatists hit the streets of Barcelona on Sunday (25 March), vowing the arrest of former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont in Germany would not stop their push for independence.
Some threw garbage cans at Catalan police in riot gear, who responded by beating demonstrators with their batons or firing warning shots in the air.
“This Europe is shameful!,” they chanted as they marched by the office of the European Commission in the Catalan capital.
Despite the efforts of Puigdemont, who fled to Brussels after the Catalan parliament declared independence on 27 October and Madrid countered by taking control of the region, no European Union member state backed the secessionist cause.
Outside of the German consulate demonstrators held up a photo of German Chancellor Angela Merkel sporting a Hitler-style moustache.
The supporters of former Catalonia’s president Puigdemont, now under judicial custody in Germany, rally at Barcelona comparing Merkel to Hitler pic.twitter.com/N7jHbE4MsO
— Alfons López Tena #FBPE (@alfonslopeztena) March 25, 2018
Many chanted “no more smiles”, a reference to the longstanding claim from Catalan separatist leaders that their drive to break the wealthy northeastern region away from Spain would be a “revolution of smiles”. But other separatist leaders like Elsa Artadi, a lawmaker in the Catalan parliament for Puigdemont’s Together for Catalonia party, appealed for calm. The protest was called by the radical Committees for the Defence of the Republic (CDR), which were set up just before Catalonia held a referendum on independence on October 1 that was banned by the courts.
Tens of thousands protest at the German consulate in Barcelona against the arrest of Carles Puigdemont, a political prisoner in 21st century Europe. pic.twitter.com/PPtZrUi33U — Catalans for Yes 🎗️ (@CatalansForYes) March 25, 2018
“They are not going to stop anything with these arrests, on the contrary,” said Yolanda Salleras, a 37-year-old physiotherapist.
“They want to bury us but each time they hit us, four new separatists arise. They want to decapitate us but we are two million,” she added.
Salleras said the time had come for separatists to do more than just hit the streets in protest.
“We need something more radical. I would paralyze the country, a general strike lasting several days until they free everyone,” she said.
According to Catalan public radio, CDR members blocked several roads in Catalonia, causing traffic jams, just as they did during two strikes in the region last year called to protest police violence during the independence referendum.
Aside from Puigdemont, who was arrested in Germany on a European warrant issued by Spain, nine other Catalan separatist leaders are in jail over their role in the region’s independence push.
Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont arrested in Germany, he could be extradited to Spain to face charges of sedition and rebellion. Protests have erupted in the streets of Barcelona.
We speak with Andrew Dowling, Catalan expert and senior lecturer at Cardiff University. pic.twitter.com/5GyBlUOQmp
— Natasha Fatah (@NatashaFatah) March 25, 2018
Five other Catalan separatist leaders went into exile along with Puigdemont, who will now have to appear before a German judge who will decide if he is sent back to Spain to face trial.
“I hope they will not extradite him but I am not very optimistic,” said Rosa Vela, a 60-year-old teacher.
Sirens wailed in the background throughout the protest which was held under an overcast sky.
Judit Carapena, a 22-year-old architecture student, said Spain’s central government should not “sing victory because it is not the end of separatism, far from it.”
“It’s the people who fuel separatism and they can’t put us all in jail. There will be other Puigdemonts,” she added.
Polls show Catalans are almost evenly divided on the issue of independence but the vast majority back holding a legal referendum to settle the question.
“We are going to continue to resist and fight to be free,” said Julio Vallmitjana, a bearded 64-year-old pensioner who wore his white hair in a ponytail and stood a bit apart from the crowd.
“Before I was in favour of confrontation but I realized that is not the best path. We have nothing more to do than to do things peacefully. The problem is that the good guys never win but we will be the first to do it.”
In the European Parliament, the Greens/EFA group condemned the arrests as “disproportionate” and called on the European Commission to mediate in the dispute. Greens co-Presidents Ska Keller (Germany) and Philippe Lamberts (Belgium) stated:
“The judge’s decision is completely disproportionate to dictate provisional imprisonment. We see no grounds for an accusation of rebellion which, as noted by several Spanish and International lawyers, requires a violent act, something that did not occur in the case of the former Catalan government members or pro-independence civil society leaders.”
“We urgently call for a new Catalan government to be appointed by the parliament so that political negotiations within Catalonia and with the central government can be started in order to find a political exit to the current deadlock.
“We call on the European Commission to mediate and try to promote dialogue and negotiation and enforcing respect for fundamental rights. Rule of law and democratic freedoms need to be respected by all Member States regardless which political party is in power.”