Sun, si and Estelladas: The grassroots campaign for Catalonia
After staging their third million-plus national day demonstration in as many years in Barcelona on Thursday, the Catalan people are gaining a reputation as the masters of spectacular political gestures.
Waving Welsh flags with friends among a crowd equal to a quarter of the country’s population it was impossible to sense the full scale of the event.
Only afterwards was it clear that people who formed a huge ‘V for vote’ in the colours of the Catalan flag had created history with one of Europe’s largest ever demonstrations.
Witnessing the grassroots revolution in the build up was even more impressive.
The politics of independence (and its art) is inescapable.
It’s daubed on walls, flying from balconies and printed on t-shirts, scarfs and stickers.
After arriving in Barcelona’s bustling Raval district a few days before the demo, we set off to find food.
But before finding anywhere offering the staple “bravas amb Estrella” we had stumbled across a shop with a queue out the door and a Saltire in the window.
Catalonia is not a country of queuers. So I asked one man with his son what they were waiting impatiently to get their hands on. “T-shirts for the demonstration,” he replied.
That queue remained steady right up until the big day.
Julia was among enthusiastic young volunteers at the shop helping to meet the insatiable demand for merchandise bearing the Estellada independence flag design.
Her motivation for spending the last days of summer behind the till were: “Political and emotional too - for the language and the culture.”
Interview with Julia
She told me people of all ages passed through as September 11 approached - including a 90-year-old man determined to play his part.
“He couldn’t go to the demonstration with a lot of people but wanted to have a t-shirt and help the campaign,” she said.
There was barely enough locals in town to form a queue when we arrived in Berga during the midday sun a couple of days later on our way to Andorra for the Wales football match.
Instead the clamour for a Catalan state is made clear by huge murals that welcome visitors escaping from the endless and expensive toll roads.
Proclaiming the causes of socialism and feminism alongside independence, the message is at odds with the politics of the town’s centre-right nationalist mayor and reflect the broad nature of the movement.
Mural in Berga
Our stay in Andorra was supposed to provide a break from the politics.
But even there we were confronted with a 400-strong demonstration for Catalan independence on our short walk across the micro-states’s capital to its new football stadium.
As it turned out, that wasn’t the biggest surprise of the night. Thank god for Gareth Bale.
I stopped being surprised at the sporadic declarations of statehood when, taking a break from the drive back to Barcelona, we got lost among Manresa’s winding streets and emerged into a town square covered in Catalanist flags and placards.
We ate at the cafe in the square and watched preparations being made for a midnight march - one of half a dozen being held to see in the national day.
Outside Manresa town hall
Every town we drove through and past on our radical road trip was awash with the same red, yellow and blue banner.
By the end of our trip, the most notable thing about the political landscape was the lack of visible support to stay within Spain.
With the Madrid government refusing to recognise the referendum scheduled for November 9, the unionist campaign’s most effective weapon appears to be their apathy for the vote.
Supporters believe the biggest statement they can make is to put up no placards, fly no flags and abstain altogether on polling day.
But there may not even be a ballot if Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy uses his powers to deny Catalonia democracy.
And that’s why millions of people will keep painting murals, keep shunning to sun to volunteer in shops and keep holding huge demonstrations.