“Do you know any community that has achieved any rights by sitting on the sofa at home?” This is one of the messages that has been sent out by the self-styled Committee for the Defense of the Republic (CDR), a pro-independence protest group that has already staged a number of demonstrations in Catalonia.
Outside of Catalonia the Cabinet meeting in Barcelona could look like an attempt to ease tensions but here our people are in prison, on trial, in exile
CDR member Marta
As the Spanish central government prepares to hold its weekly Cabinet meeting in Barcelona on Friday, December 21, the CDR has been busy rallying supporters on social media. Using the message service Telegram, CDR groups across Catalonia have called on people to bring Barcelona to a standstill. One message claims: “The revolution of smiles is over. Now is the time for action.”
Last week, the radical separatist group called for a “battle” on the day to stop the meeting going ahead. The separatist organization believes the Cabinet meeting is a “provocation” given it coincides with the first anniversary of the December 21 regional elections, which were called by the central government of then-Popular Party (PP) Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy after the region’s powers were suspended.
But there is concern within the CDR that the situation could get out of control. The group has warned members that protesters could face up to four years in prison if judges and prosecutors find that they have endangered the meeting. The activists aim to push the protest to the legal limit but with no clear leaders that may prove difficult.
The power of the CDR resides in its anonymity and the “directives” they receive just moments before protest action, the group told EL PAÍS at a meeting in the Guinardó neighborhood in Barcelona, held to discuss the upcoming Cabinet meeting. They explained that the CDR tries to avoid having “leaders” but admits that “sometimes it is inevitable.” The activists said that “the revolution of smiles is over but disobedience has many ways of being public without violent.”
In a message on Telegram, the CDR group in Girona claimed that December 21 will be the moment to “return to the streets and return the spirit of October 1” – the date of last year’s illegal referendum on Catalan independence. The CDR are not allowed to use social media to share “messages that cause confusion, criminalization or fear” and insisted that while each group has separate demands they work in a coordinated fashion. According to the separatists, the goal is to cause chaos “peacefully.”
“In any protest there is self-defense and civil disobedience,” said “Marta,” a CDR member who did not want to use her real name. “Outside of Catalonia the Cabinet meeting in Barcelona could look like an attempt to ease tensions but here our people are in prison, on trial, in exile.”
The Catalan Public Works Ministry, which is part of the Spanish Confederation of Business Organizations (CEOE), has invited Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and Catalan premier Quim Torra to attend an awards ceremony and dinner on Thursday, December 20 – the night before the Cabinet meeting.
“It is very important for us for the two leaders to be part of this event to give an image of stability and normality that could favor everyone,” says Josep Sánchez Llibre, the head of the ministry. Around 600 Catalan business people are expected to attend the dinner. Government sources have not confirmed whether Sánchez will take part.
Marta believes Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of the Socialist Party (PSOE) has chosen to hold the Cabinet meeting in Barcelona to provoke the pro-independence movement and justify the application of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution. This emergency measure, which suspended the region’s autonomous powers, was invoked by Rajoy following the unilateral declaration of independence last year. Marta says the meeting is also being used to “push forward elections so that the PSOE gets the best results at the expense of Catalonia.”
Meanwhile, the co-founder of the terrorist group Terra Lliure, Fredi Bentanachs, has called on demonstrators to protest peacefully on December 21. In a video, Bentanachs said: “We cannot go to a protest to break windows, knock down barriers… things that do not help us and only serve to validate claims by those who support Article 155 that we are violent.”
The plan for December 22 is to get as close as possible to the meeting venue in Llotja de Mar. The union Intersindicato, which has very few members, has called on its workers to strike between 12.30 and 2.30pm. A strike between 10am and 2pm has also been called at universities across the region. Thousands of students are expected to fill the streets of the Catalan capital and follow the instructions shared by CDR on social media.
More than 9,000 law enforcement officers will be on duty in Catalonia to safeguard public security on the day.
English version by Melissa Kitson.