BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Thousands of Catalans gathered in Barcelona on Saturday to commemorate the fifth anniversary of an independence referendum that marked the high point of their movement to break away from the rest of Spain.
The 2017 vote, which was declared unconstitutional by Spain’s top courts, was marred by clashes with police who tried but mostly failed to confiscate ballot boxes. The pro-independence side won by a landslide, but most Catalans in favor of remaining in Spain stayed home as pro-union political parties boycotted the vote. Polls then and now show that the wealthy northeast region is roughly equally divided over the secession question.
Catalonia’s separatist lawmakers used the referendum vote to justify a unilateral declaration of independence issued on Oct. 27, 2017 that failed to garner any international support and had no practical impact. Spain’s government immediately took over the regional government and fired its top officials. The separatist leaders either fled Spain or were tried and sentenced to prison for sedition until they were pardoned last year.
Since the referendum victory the separatist movement has been rudderless and increasingly fraught with in-fighting over what to do next. Bickering between the two main separatist parties has reached the point where one is threatening to leave the regional government led by Pere Aragonès, who favors ongoing talks with Spain’s central government in Madrid.
Divisions in the separatist camp were heard Saturday when part of the crowd chanted “Aragonès, resign!”
Hardline separatists consider Aragonès’ plan to ask Spain to hold an authorized referendum as forsaking the legacy of the 2017 ballot.