“Europe wake up!” Tens of thousands of pro-independence Catalans demonstrated Thursday in Brussels to challenge the EU, accused of siding with Madrid in the serious political crisis that has shaken Spain for two months.
The protesters were 45,000, according to a count of the Brussels police, more than double the estimate put forward the day before by the two pro-independence organizations.
The deposed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont welcomed this success, in a short speech at the arrival of the procession.
“Have you ever seen anywhere in the world a demonstration like this to support criminals? No!” he exclaimed the independence leader, exiled in Belgium to escape the lawsuits in Spain.
The meeting was convened at two weeks of the regional elections of December 21 in Catalonia, where Mr. Puigdemont is again candidate.
A crucial vote that was in everyone’s mind, the Catalans fearing the reaction of Madrid in case of independence victory, two months after the referendum banned October 1.
“We have come to ask Europe to wake up and see that in Spain there is no democracy,” AFP Montserrat Mante, 73, from Badalona, near Barcelona, told AFP.
“It is necessary that the countries of the EU force a little M. Rajoy (head of the Spanish government, ed) to the dialogue and to accept the result of a referendum whatever it is”, adds this retired, wearing a wool cap to face the cold wind.
The crowd, drowned under a tide of yellow and red striped flags, started shortly before noon (1100 GMT) to stop three hours later, still in the neighborhood of European institutions.
“Democracy – we defend it when it suits us”, could be read under a portrait of the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker.
The separatists blame him for having sided with the Spanish government, which took control of Catalonia and dismissed the regional executive after the unilateral declaration of independence of 27 October, following the unacknowledged referendum.
Another banner drew a parallel between the attitude of the head of government Mariano Rajoy, in 2017, and that of the former Spanish dictator Franco at the beginning of the Civil War in 1936, questioning in English: “That’s the values of the EU? ”
– ‘Voters visiting’ –
Overall, the atmosphere was good child in the procession, from which sometimes escaped traditional bombarde tunes. The yellow color, symbolizing support for the separatists “political prisoners”, was omnipresent.
The number two of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, interviewed by the press, spoke of the “very positive” and “very determined” attitude of the demonstrators.
But he recalled the red lines of Brussels, saying that “what is not allowed in the rule of law is simply to ignore the law,” referring to the referendum of October 1, maintained despite its ban by the Spanish justice.
In Madrid, the vice-president of the Spanish Conservative government, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, quipped after the Council of Ministers Carles Puigdemont, who is campaigning from Brussels.
“Usually, the candidates in the campaign will look for the votes of the voters, this time it seems that some voters of Mr. Puigdemont had to go to visit him,” she said ironically.
Carles Puigdemont and his four ex-ministers exiled like him in Belgium announced Wednesday their intention to stay in Belgium “for the moment”, the day after the withdrawal by a Spanish judge of European arrest warrants aimed at them.
The former Catalan president is awaiting the outcome of the 21 December elections, and what will be the reaction of Madrid, before considering a possible return to the country.
Taking advantage of holidays in Catalonia, the demonstrators had rallied the capital of Europe by plane, by bus, but also by camper or by car. While hotels in Brussels have been stormed, some have found a home homestay in Flemish or Walloon families.