Catalonia: Independence threat brings crowds out in force to celebrate Spain's National Day in Madrid

‘I lived in Catalonia for years but I never thought we should break away from Spain and today I want to make that clear’

Alasdair Fotheringham
Thursday 12 October 2017 15:28 BST
The Spanish capital was teeming with patriotic fervour, in part a response to Catalonia’s referendum
The Spanish capital was teeming with patriotic fervour, in part a response to Catalonia’s referendum (Reuters)

While Spain’s National Day military parades in Madrid contained all its usual ingredients – soldiers marching by on horseback, soldiers in Jeeps, soldiers on foot and even soldiers from the Foreign Legion marching behind a goat, the unit’s mascot – the knock-on effect of Catalonia’s current breakaway bid, spectators said, was impossible to ignore.

“The whole Catalan independence question has brought a lot more public out,” Milagros Calvo, one of thousands with a Spanish flag draped around their shoulders, told The Independent.

She added: “Lots of people might normally say ‘Ach, there’s a procession every year.’ But this year it matters more that we’re here now, united on our national day.”

“I’ve come for the first time ever,” a middle-aged woman, standing on a street bench to see better, added.

“I lived in Catalonia for years but I never thought we should break away from Spain, and today I want to make that clear.”

Less than an hour after the capital’s parade had ended, news broke that one of the military jets taking part in the flyovers in Madrid had subsequently crashed, with the pilot dying, near the southern airbase of Albacete.

But the two-hour procession itself passed off without incident, in exceptionally warm autumn weather and with largely good-humoured crowds.

However among the more predictable shouts of Viva España! there were some audible cries of “Jail Puigdemont” – a reference to the Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont – and even noisier chants of “You’re not alone” when the Guardia Civil – criticised in Catalonia for heavy-handed policing – marched past.

The Spanish royal family, as ever, watched over the 3,900 soldiers taking part from the central VIP tribune, with the country’s premier Mariano Rajoy and almost all his government close by. As expected, Mr Puigdemont was one of the few regional leaders who did not attend.

The army has been at pains to insist that this year’s revamping of the procession in Madrid, expanded in size, moved to the better-known Paseo de la Castellana, and with the national police taking part for the first time in 30 years, had no connection with the ongoing political crisis.

But no one needed reminding that the Catalan crisis grinds on. Spain’s Defence Minister, Maria Dolores de Cospedal, speaking in front of the VIP tribunals, insisted that “unity makes us strong”.

“This crisis is like one of our typical Madrid cocido stews, it’s taken a heck of a long time to cook properly, ” said one middle-aged Spanish businessman, sitting on some railings after what he called his “usual watching spot” was swamped by the bigger-than-usual, flag-waving crowds.

“And now it’s ready, it’s going to be a right old meal for everybody to get through, too.”

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