Protests Engulf Catalonia After 12 Pro-Independence Politicians and Activists Are Sentenced to Prison

Demonstrators clash with police in Barcelona, Spain, on Friday. Catalonia’s capital has been gripped by protests over the conviction of a dozen Catalan independence leaders. Five marches with tens of thousands of people from inland towns converged in down
Emilio Morenatti / AP

Peaceful marches, a general strike and violent unrest have convulsed Catalonia, in northeastern Spain, this week after a group of Catalan leaders received long prison sentences.

On Monday, Spain’s Supreme Court convicted 12 politicians and prominent activists for their part in a 2017 push to declare Catalonia an independent republic. Nine of the leaders, including the former vice president of the Catalan government, were sentenced to between nine and 13 years in prison for sedition. Four of them also were charged with misuse of public funds.

Yet while many Catalans are outraged at the central government in Madrid for the harsh crackdown on the independence movement, the huge demonstrations have obscured deep divisions in Catalan society.

In an official survey in July, more than 48% of respondents said they did not want Catalonia to become an independent state, compared with 44% in favor.

Just a 20-minute metro ride from the unrest downtown in Catalonia’s capital city of Barcelona, the working-class neighborhood of Nou Barris has a somewhat different mood. It has hardly any pro-independence flags hanging from balconies and few of its residents are seen wearing the yellow ribbon that supporters of the jailed leaders have pinned to their clothes.

“Catalonia belongs to Spain,” says Sara Pérez, 62, sitting on a park bench in Nou Barris, waiting for her grandson to get out of boxing class. “I consider myself Catalan, although the way things are going, each day a little less.”

She says her neighborhood is full of people who agree with her, even though she tries to avoid the thorny subject of Catalan independence. You never know how people might react, she says.

“I’ve heard of families who have always gotten along but are now arguing over this,” Pérez says. “Some are in favor, others against it, and there’s conflict.”

Critics of the independence drive often point to Spain’s 1978 constitution, which says Spain is “indivisible” but it gives Catalonia some administrative and legal powers as an “autonomous community.”

Flanked by the Mediterranean Sea and the Pyrenees mountains, Catalonia has a population of about 7.5 million, the second largest in Spain, and a distinct language and cultural heritage. It contributes about a fifth of Spain’s gross domestic product, the biggest share. Its leaders have long sought greater autonomy for the community.

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SOURCE: NPR, Lucia Benavides