A massive, colourful and festive human chain formed this Wednesday in Catalonia. A multitude of citizens, old and young, joined hands at exactly 17:14 (15:14 GMT), creating a historic line which crossed Catalonia from north to south, stretching over 400 kilometres of roads and city streets and occupied by a peaceful crowd of people with one common goal: to demand the independence of Catalonia, one of Europe's oldest nations.
Just like they do every September 11, Catalans commemorated their National Day this Wednesday. The commemoration began with the traditional presentation of floral arrangements at the base of the monument to Rafael Casanova, the country's prime minister in 1714, who was wounded while defending Barcelona from the troops of King Philip V. At midday, a light drizzle fell on the official celebration in one of Barcelona's parks, presided by Catalonia's president, and by the president of the Catalan Parliament.
But the focus of attention on this National Day was not on the traditional acts organised by the Government and the Parliament, but on a demonstration which, under the name of 'Via Catalana' (Catalan Way), had captured the imagination of hundreds of thousands of citizens. Following in the footsteps of last year's massive rally, when some 1.5 million people marched through the streets of Barcelona asking for independence, organisers (ANC: Catalonia's National Assembly, a non-political organisation), had set an ambitious goal: to form a human chain stretching across the whole of Catalonia, from the south to the north. The project drew its inspiration from the Baltic Way, which on August 23, 1989 linked Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
Massive turnout in Barcelona
400,000 people registered on ANC's website to book a place in a specific segment of the human chain. Over the course of a few months, all the roads and streets were filled by people willing to participate in an event with a clearly stated objective: to ask the Catalan Government to hold a referendum for the independence of Catalonia in 2014, with or without the Spanish Government's consent. The overwhelmingly positive reaction meant that the project was a success even before it took place. But reality far surpassed expectations. The final turnout was so massive that it unexpectedly broke records. In many locations, not one but multiple chains were formed. In Barcelona, where the chain connected some of the city's most iconic landmarks, from La Pedrera to the Sagrada Familia and FC Barcelona's football stadium, 500,000 people transformed the chain into a massive rally. Across Catalonia, more than 1.6 million people took to the streets and roads, according to estimates by the Catalan Government. They did so in a joyous and peaceful atmosphere, which resembled a street festival more than a political march. Families and groups of friends, many of them wearing yellow t-shirts, participated in one of Europe's most spectacular demonstrations ever.
A referendum in 2014?
Unsurprisingly, the chain's organisers were ecstatic about the outstanding success of the Catalan Way. They once again underscored that today's demonstration, together with last year's massive rally in Barcelona, show the unequivocal determination of a substantial portion of the Catalan society to be asked in a referendum whether they want Catalonia to become an independent country, or rather to continue with the current status quo as one of Spain's 17 autonomous regions. The stakes could not be higher, since the Spanish Government is bitterly opposed to a referendum. However, following today's success, the Catalan Government insisted that it is determined to find a way out of the current standoff, and that a referendum should take place before the end of 2014.
The latest polls suggest that 81% of Catalans support the organisation of a referendum, with 52% favouring independence. However, they face hostile public opinion in Spain, fuelled by the political parties and the Spanish media, both of whom are fiercely opposed to the idea of a referendum.