The worst thing you can do when you have a problem is to fool yourself and brush it off by comparing it to other people’s problems, or to act like it doesn’t exist. It’s true that the persistence, endurance and resilience shown by the Catalan independence movement is unheard of in recent European history. Nevertheless, six hundred thousand people (even though it’s a sizeable number in anyone’s book) is too few for an occasion [a demonstration as part of the Diada or National Day of Catalonia] which is typically attended by over a million, and, in its most successful years, one and a half million.
Having said that, I in no way wish to give credence to the reports in Spain’s nationalistic press, which are led by newspapers that lie about every issue they cover, this one in particular. I mention it because it’s an objective fact: six hundred thousand is perhaps more than some of the organisers had feared, meaning they haven’t lost face, but it’s significantly fewer than in previous years, meaning the movement is less powerful than it was in the eyes of its adversaries and the world at large, at least on the surface. One need only take a look at the headlines in the same international press which we have praised on so many other occasions for its objectivity (and which have served so many times to expose the lies of Spain’s gutter press).
Still, there’s no need to be alarmed. People haven’t disappeared or given up or changed their views or become more conformist than they once were. The people who made the 1 October referendum possible are still there, they haven’t gone away and would do it all again, to use Jordi Cuixart’s phrase, but on one condition. They would do it all again if they thought that their efforts were seriously appreciated. In addition to the all-too-familiar in-fighting between parties and squabbles between factions within the same party, the pro-independence leaders often come across –in the way they speak, their attitude and their rhetoric– as going through the motions and playing a role, which is enough to put a damper on anyone’s enthusiasm. They are presumably told by their advisors and spin doctors to parrot the same lines a thousand times a day. However, it doesn’t only make their supporters feel weary, it also makes them feel like they’re being taken for a ride, to put it mildly. They’re not helped by the self-important, pedantic attitude of those who, whenever they’re in front of a microphone and a camera, feel themselves to have been entrusted with a historic responsibility, as if they were on a mission of transcendental proportions. They give the impression that they are the indisputable authority on the subject and that people should merely do what they are told at all times.
The people haven’t disappeared or abandoned the movement, and undoubtedly we will see huge demonstrations in the future. At the risk of repeating myself, people are more demanding and less predictable than some would have us believe. They don’t simply react in response to basic stimuli, they also think for themselves. For the most part, they think and live in the real world. The leaders I mentioned earlier would do well to take what happened during the Diada as a warning, in case the fall in numbers is repeated at the ballot box. And that would be a problem, indeed.