Hundreds of thousands of people living in Catalonia will vote in referendums on Sunday they hope could be the first step to winning independence from Spain.
A group of hooded people burn flags of Spain and France at the end of one of the pro-independence rallies celebrated on occasion of Catalonia's Day Photo: EPA
Around 160 municipalities across the northeastern region will stage unofficial polls asking their citizens whether they are in favour of breaking away.
The 700,000 votes are not legally binding but demonstrate the strength of a movement that threatens to rupture Spain.
Chief among those leading the revolution is Joan Laporta, president of Barcelona FC, the club that has become synonymous with Catalan identity and the struggle against perceived oppression.
When he is not on the sidelines at matches, Laporta has been travelling between towns in Catalonia urging residents to participate in Sunday's vote.
"The time has come for us Catalans to seize our destiny, to stand up and demand what is our right. We are a nation and as such we deserve the right to self-determination," he told residents on Thursday in Tárrega, a town 80 miles southwest of the region's capital Barcelona.
Unlike some other independence movements, Catalan nationalism has little to do with ethnicity. More than a third of the inhabitants, who make up almost 7.4 million of Spain's 46 million population, were not born in Catalonia, and many eager nationalists have roots elsewhere.
"Being Catalan is not a question of ethnic identity – its emotional identity. If you live and work in Catalonia – you're a Catalan. It's as simple as that," states Laporta.
As chairman of Barça he highlights the symbolism the club holds for the Catalan struggle. "When we say Barça is 'more than just a club', we mean it represents the rights and freedoms of the Catalan nation – it did so during the time of Franco and it continues to do so today.
"Catalonia has no official national team because of the Spanish state. Our rights are denied because Spain bans our participation in official competitions (such as the World Cup)," he said.
Laporta holds the view that Catalonia's continued position within Spain is detrimental to its interests – and not just in terms of football.
"The Spanish state doesn't serve our social, economic or cultural needs – we'd be better off if we broke away and developed our own path." he explained.
It is a belief shared by a growing number in Catalonia, where frustration has simmered over the way the autonomous region is treated by Madrid.
During the dictatorship of Gen Francisco Franco, the Catalan language was banned, its national flag prohibited, and its population diluted through forced immigration from the rest of Spain.
Since Spain's transition to democracy following the death of the dictator in 1975, Catalonia has enjoyed more autonomy than any of the 17 regions that make up Spain, with complete control over its own health and education policies.
But residents in the prosperous region complain that their taxes have long been used to subsidise the rest of Spain, while their views were steamrollered by Madrid.
The polls on Sunday take place as Spain's constitutional court considers rejecting the region's new statute, a charter negotiated with the central government which was approved by the Catalan and Spanish parliaments as well as in a regional referendum three years ago.
The controversial statute, outlining Catalonia's relationship with Madrid, begins with a preamble defining Catalonia as a "nation" – a term that could be blocked by judges following complaints by Spain's conservative opposition party.
The initiative to hold referendums across Catalonia follows a similar plebiscite in Arenys de Munt, on September 13, where 96 per cent of those who voted favoured independence. The event in the small town north of Barcelona was dismissed by detractors as a flawed publicity stunt after only 41 per cent of the town's 6,500 population turned out to vote.
In Tárrega where residents are among the 700,000 Catalans invited to cast their vote on Sunday, organisers admit that the result is unlikely to reflect the true proportion of those in favour of secession from Spain.
"This referendum is an opportunity to show we are ready to face the challenge that lies ahead," said the town's deputy mayor, Jordi Ramon. "If enough of us demonstrate our desire for independence then the opportunity to legally decide will surely come – and it will come soon."
Font: Daily Telegraph
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