Barcelona, Spain – A man standing on the balcony of the regional government‘s headquarters proclaims the Free Catalan Republic. It happened in 1931, but a hologram recreated the historic moment during this year‘s official celebration of Catalonia‘s national day.
People gathered in Sant Jaume‘s square cheered and clapped as the people had done back then.
After years of ambiguity, the current regional government seems to have finalised its U-turn towards independence.
Now they face the upcoming regional election on September 27 as a referendum on whether Catalonia should break with Spain. The latest poll suggests that pro-independence parties will reach an absolute majority.
This year‘s celebration of Catalonia‘s national day on Friday is special as it also marks the start of the two-week electoral campaign. Hundreds of thousands of people are expected by the pro-independence forces.
Alba Porta, 27, a teacher, is planning to attend the march.
“I do feel I‘m being used by them, but it‘s also an opportunity – we need the establishment to reach our goals, so in a way it‘s us who are using them,“ Porta said. She will vote for the pro-independence Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), a far-left party.
“From my point of view, independence and better social policies come together. Even with a central government led by Podemos, I think it is very hard to change Spanish politics – it is easier to do it in Catalonia.“
The Democratic Convergence of Catalonia (CDC), currently in power, has joined forces with the Republican Left of Catalonia party in a single-issue alliance called “Junts pel Si” – Together for a Yes Vote.
Corruption scandals, however, are piling up against the ruling party of the Catalan president, Artur Mas.
The last case took place only two weeks ago when police raided CDC headquarters looking for evidence into kickbacks allegedly paid by companies to the party.
Despite all this, there is little doubt that Junts pel Si will win the election – by 38.8 percent, according to the poll published by the Catalan newspaper El Periodico.
Begona Corbella will be one of the people voting for the party.
“To me independence comes first, but we aren‘t being fooled. There‘s a lot of corruption everywhere and we know only a few families are always on top of the political parties. But I‘m voting Junts pel Si because I want independence and because I like the diverse team they have put together,” she told Al Jazeera.
Corbella is a 46-year-old teacher in Barcelona. She thinks one of the reasons the independence movement has grown so fast is the “disrespectful” attitude of the central government in Madrid.
Corbella expressed her scepticism of the reasons for the corruption probes.
“I don‘t buy the whole corruption story,” she said. “Of course, there are many cases, but this last one – it‘s not a coincidence that they started investigating so close to the regional election.”
This attitude is similar to the official position of the party. “We are convinced some people are trying to win in court what they can‘t win in the polling stations,” General Coordinator Josep Rull of the CDC told Al Jazeera.
“There‘s no corruption, it‘s just an investigation. CDC is willing to cooperate with justice [authorities], but we don‘t want to take part in this media circus,” Rull said.
Not the first time
This is not the first time CDC is linked to a corruption scandal. There were allegations of irregular funding, tax fraud, and a money laundering investigation into Jordi Pujol, CDC‘s founder and Catalonian premier for 23 years.
“I think the leaders of CDC have thrown themselves over the idea of independence as a way out from the corruption scandals,” said 70-year-old Josep Lopez, who has always voted Convergence and Union (CiU), the former coalition, in which CDC was the major party.
I also want the independence because I'm tired of paying taxes and seeing the benefits going somewhere else.
CDC’s Rull finds the notion that the party aims to manipulate so many voters, “offensive”.
“We aren‘t going to retract [from independence]. We have tried many times to negotiate with Madrid and it has never worked. We want to agree with the central government the terms to create our own state. A Scotland-UK style referendum is our goal,” Rull said.
Not all Catalans are pro-independence, and many feel lost amid the politics of a pro-independence push. “I don‘t know what I‘m going to vote this time because I don‘t want Catalonia to break away from Spain,” Lopez said.
“It would be very negative economically speaking. Many companies would move their headquarters away from here,” explained Lopez.
“Before I was completely convinced I was going to vote for independence, but now I‘m scared they can take away the companies from Catalonia,” he said.
Mari Carmen Quero would like to see an independent Catalonia, although she was born in Spain‘s southern region of Andalusia.
“Having lived and worked here for many years, I think Catalonia has a different culture and I feel part of it. I also want the independence because I‘m tired of paying taxes and seeing the benefits going somewhere else.
“Here, there‘s also people struggling a lot, and we need better public education and health services,” said Quero.