AFP PHOTO / JAVIER SORIANO
The battle between Spain’s central government and the separatist leaders of Catalonia escalates day after day, forcing Catalan society to take a stand.
Political parties, football clubs, businesses and civic society groups have picked their side — for or against independence, for or against holding a referendum — and they are all trying to convince Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont.
FC Barcelona, one of the world’s most popular football teams whose motto is “more than a club”, has long been a symbol of Catalan nationalism.
The club says it is neutral on whether Catalans should chose independence but it has been vocal about Catalonia’s right to hold a secession referendum.
Its supporters regularly chant “Independence” at matches at its Camp Nou stadium and during Barcelona’s Champions League match against Olympiakos on Wednesday fans held up a nearly 50-metre banner that pleaded for “Dialogue, Respect, and Sport”
Barcelona’s crosstown rivals Espanyol refused to take a public stand but have said that “today, being brave means to not stir up the conflict in Catalan society.”
Like Barcelona, Girona, another Catalan club in the Spanish first division, backs Catalonia’s right to hold a referendum.
During the last regional election in Catalonia in September 2015, three separatist parties won a majority of seats in the regional assembly.
But they are very different.
Puigdemont’s conservative business-friendly PDeCAT party ran together with the left-wing ERC party in a coalition called “Together for Yes”.
Both are moderate and cautious on declaring immediate independence, even if ERC has a harder line than PDeCAT.
But the tiny anti-capitalist CUP party, their ally which holds the balance of power in the assembly, is pressuring Puigdemont to move faster towards an independence declaration.
Pro-unity parties are also divided. Ciudadanos, the main opposition party in Catalonia, along with the Socialists and the conservative Popular Party back the suspension of some of Catalonia’s powers to stop independence.
But the left-wing coalition “Catalunya si que es pot” maintains that dialogue is the way out of the crisis.
Nearly 1,200 firms have moved their legal headquarters out of Catalonia since the beginning of the month when a banned independence referendum took place, including several listed multinationals.
Of the seven Catalan firms that were part of Spain’s Ibex-35 index of most traded shares before the crisis started, only one — biopharmaceuticals manufacturer Grifols — has kept its headquarters in the region.
The company’s president, Victor Grifols, is one of the few major Catalan entrepreneurs to have spoken out in favour of independence.
In 2014 he urged Puigdemont’s predecessor, Artur Mas, to keep pushing towards independence.
The leaders of Catalonia’s two major grassroots independence associations, Jordi Cuixart of Omnium Cultural and Jordi Sanchez of the Catalan National Assembly, were remanded in custody on October 16 by a court investigating them for “sedition”.
They are accused of encouraging protesters to block officers from Spain’s Guardia Civil police from leaving a Catalan government building last month in an operation aimed at stopping the referendum on October 1.
Another association, the Sociedad Civil Catalana, says it represents the “silent majority” of Catalans that want to remain in Spain. It staged a massive demonstration in favour of Catalan unity in Barcelona on October 8.