BARCELONA, Spain – More than 1 million people here congregated throughout central Barcelona this weekend in an unusually strong display of support for the secession from Spain of Catalonia, the highly nationalistic autonomous community of Spain that comprises the provinces of Barcelona, Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona.
The mass rally, which took on a celebratory tone on the day of Diada, Catalonia’s national day, comes almost two weeks ahead of a Sept 27 regional election here which is being seen as a primer on secession.
While the drive for Catalonian independence is a domestic matter that traces back to the 19th and early 20th centuries – a movement that got a shot in the arm with massive demonstrations 2012 and 2013 – this year’s show of force coincides with perhaps the largest rift the European Union has seen since its formation in 2002.
Europe finds itself in crisis as hundreds of thousands of refugees largely from Syria make their way by land and sea to Western sanctuary, especially in countries like Britain and Germany, which have some of the most generous social welfare benefits in Europe.
Pro and anti-immigrant rallies were staged across Europe over the weekend as more than 9,000 migrants arrived in Munich alone Saturday, and thousands more made their way to Italy and other European countries. Germany says it expects 40,000 more to arrive over the weekend.
Contrary to popular perception, most Syrian migrants flooding Europe are Muslim men, and not women and children. The most recent breakdown places the men at 72 percent with women coming on at only at 15 percent and children comprising 13 percent.
This despite the fact that the symbol of the Syrian refugees’ plight has become a child, the 3-year-old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, who drowned with his mother and brother when a refugee boat capsized near Turkey.
It has not been confirmed that most are fleeing war and would face persecution if they returned home. Some may be seeking economic opportunities while a number could be radicalized Muslims seeking to take advantage of Europe’s open door policies.
The European Union Friday delayed until next month a decision on refugee numbers that each country is expected to take in. Germany is said to be willing to take in the most refugees, with Spain and Britain among the other nations expected to receive higher quotas.
The plan got blowback from Denmark, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary with Poland working on a border fence and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban taking a strong anti-immigrant stance.
“They seized railway stations, rejected giving fingerprints, failed to cooperate and are unwilling to go to places where they would get food, water, accommodation and medical care,” Orban told reporters at a conference Friday. “They rebelled against Hungarian legal order.”
As part of a “day of action” in several European cities Saturday, tens of thousands of rallied in support of the refugees, calling for Europe to do its part to help with the crisis.
On the streets of London, tens of thousands of people marched toward the prime minister’s residence, with some carrying banners that read “Open the Borders” and “Refugees In,” reported the BBC.
At least 1,000 more rallied in Stockholm. “Sweden can do much more, not only because it has the capacity to do so, but also because it, along with the European Union, bears some responsibility for the conflict in Syria,” the BBC quoted one demonstrator as saying.
In counter-demonstrations, thousands rallied against the resettlement of refugees in the eastern European countries of the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia, highlighting a major east-west divide, with anti-immigrant sentiment rocking the former Communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe.
But it’s not only the former Soviet satellites that expressed disappointment with the European Union.
In what has been described by much of the news media as a “shock poll,” a survey by the Mail on Sunday last week found a staggering 43 percent of Brits would vote to leave the European Union if a referendum, due by the end of 2017, were held this month.
This while the economic crisis in Greece takes center stage here ahead of national elections Sept. 20 that has stirred much anti-EU sentiment in that country. Just Saturday, Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem firmly ruled out any renegotiation of the massive loan program meant to secure Greece’s economy.
And here in Barcelona, where pro-refugee attitudes largely rule, the drive to secede from Spain is still dominating the street discourse.
On Saturday, WND attended annual borough parties throughout Barcelona, where pro secession placards and banners could be seen throughout the streets. Residents here say the celebrations in previous years were not as political.
Barcelona is the second-largest city in Spain and one of the largest metropolitan areas in Europe.
Last week, Spain agreed in theory to accept as many refugees as proposed by the European Commission, with the number now set at more than 19,000 to be resettled in Spain.
In August, Barcelona’s new mayor, Ada Colau, backed by the left-wing Podemos party, posted an emotional plea on her Facebook page calling for European citizens to put aside their “fear” of the “other,” stop using terms like “illegal alien” and instead create a “network of cities of refuge.”
Last week, Colau partnered with the city of Madrid to back a campaign that has created a registrar of households ready to donate material goods to the refugees while seeking volunteers to provide housing and shelter for a period of time.
Colau’s office says it received more than 1,200 offers from residents to provide everything from food to housing to language lessons. Barcelona city hall said it is working to coordinate with the “many Barcelona families” that have “offered to receive refugees.”
Yet the municipality refused to provide a breakdown of the exact number of residents who offered to open up their homes to the incoming immigrants and would not even give a rough estimate when asked by phone and email inquiry.
Last week, WND deployed to Rambla del Poblenou, a main thoroughfare in Barcelona’s popular Sant Martí district, and interviewed 22 local residents about the immigration crisis. The vast majority of Barcelona residents interviewed expressed deep sympathy for the refugees and strongly supported the Spanish government’s decision to take in nearly 20,000 of those fleeing Syria.
Most residents queried also supported the mayor’s aid plan. Yet when asked if they would personally house the refugees, every Barcelona resident interviewed responded in the negative.