The Spanish king and queen on Thursday presided over a National Day parade held against the backdrop of Catalan separatism. The crisis opened up by the Catalan government’s independence drive loomed over an event that was marked by a great display of patriotic sentiment by the crowds, while politicians made a show of unity.
It was also marred by the death of a pilot, whose Eurofighter combat jet plane crashed as it was returning back to base after the traditional flyby.
The entire Spanish Cabinet (save for the economy minister, who is on a trip to Washington), high-ranking state officials and most of the country’s political leaders were on hand to watch nearly 4,000 servicemen and women as well as members of the Civil Guard and (for the first time) National Police parade down Madrid’s Paseo de la Castellana.
It was the first time in seven years that the October 12 parade route had gone down this ample boulevard, illustrating the organizers’ desire to accommodate larger crowds than usual. The route was also longer than other years, around two kilometers.
Former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe González, the longest-serving head of government since Spain’s return to democracy, attended the event for the first time in years. All of the country’s regional premiers were there, save for the heads of the Basque Country, Navarre and Catalonia.
Socialist Party (PSOE) leader Pedro Sánchez and Ciudadanos chief Albert Rivera were also in attendance, but Podemos secretary general Pablo Iglesias sent party representatives in his place, as in previous years.
The slogan for this year was Orgullosos de ser españoles (Proud to be Spanish), reflecting a new and unprecedented surge in public demonstrations of patriotism in the wake of the Catalan independence crisis.
The day marked Felipe VI’s first public appearance since October 3, when he made a special televised address calling on Catalan authorities to desist from their breakaway plans and restore constitutional order in Spain.
Thousands of people cheered the royal family as the Rolls Royce carrying Felipe VI, Letizia and their children Leonor and Sofía drove by.
The parade began at 11am and lasted around 90 minutes. It later emerged that one of the four pilots who had participated in the flyby had crashed at around 12.09pm near Los Llanos airbase in Albacete province. The pilot was unable to eject from his aircraft in time and died in the crash, military sources reported.
English version by Susana Urra.