Nearly one week after Spanish police tried to violently shut down Catalonia’s vote to become independent from the country, thousands of people rallied in Madrid and Barcelona on Saturday in a more peaceful show of support and opposition.
People who were wearing white were backing the slogan, “Shall we talk?” which Jordi Cuixart, president of one of the one of the grassroots groups driving Catalonia’s separatist movement, told the Guardian was a call to Spanish politicians.
“There has to be a commitment to dialogue,” Cuixart said. “We will continue to demand a commitment that the referendum law be fulfilled.”
Meanwhile, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has denied requests for mediation, vowing to block independence, which could signal more ruptures to come in the European Union. Thousands of supporters of the union counter-protested the sea of white with Spanish flags.
The demonstration was a much more peaceful scene than what happened on Oct. 1, when 90 percent of Catalans who voted in an outlawed referendum favored secession from Spain. There was a 43 percent turnout.
Spanish police tried to sabotage the vote by raiding polling stations, beating voters and firing rubber bullets into the crowds. The Catalan government said hundreds of people were injured. Spain’s government representative in Catalonia apologized on Friday, but still blamed Catalonia for the unrest.
Catalonia, the birthplace of Salvador Dalí, is a prosperous region in northeastern Spain with its own language and culture and a population of about 7.5 million. Barcelona is its capital.
It has its own parliament and is autonomous, but the national government oversees areas of security such as immigration, the airports and the ports.
And while it has long sought independence, the most recent push came after a Spanish court overturned an agreement that gave it more autonomy in 2010 amid a global economic downturn.
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, who took office in 2011, posed the referendum in defiance of Spanish law at the risk of losing autonomy.
In an interview with the BBC following the police violence, he said, “I think we’ve won the right to be heard, but what I find harder to understand is this indifference – or absolute lack of interest – in understanding what is happening here. They’ve never wanted to listen to us.”