The decision to suspend Catalonia's declaration of independence has drawn mixed reactions. Some fear a breakaway from Spain, while others say there's no turning back. Anna Gumbau reports from Barcelona.
Laura Grau, a 19-year-old economics student, rushed from her university campus to the Passeig de Lluis Companys, the avenue that connects Barcelona's Arc de Triomf with the city's biggest park, Ciutadella. Just over 600 meters away lies the regional parliament, where Catalan president Carles Puigdemont was expected to declare independence minutes later.
Laura wore an "estelada," the pro-independence Catalan flag, on her shoulders as she joined the crowd of thousands of independence supporters assembled along the avenue. Grassroots secessionist organizations called the gathering to follow Puigdemont's speech on three big screens set up across the symbolic boulevard.
Read more - Who is Catalan President Carles Puigdemont?
The Passeig de Lluis Companys takes its name from the historical leader of the Catalanist Republican left and former regional president exiled in France after the Spanish Civil War, who was arrested, tortured and shot by dictator Francisco Franco's police in 1940. The name Lluis Companys took on a strong significance just a couple of days ago, when Pablo Casado, a high-ranking member of Spain's ruling People's Party, said that "Puigdemont could end up like Companys" if he were to go ahead with independence. "These are the people that we [pro-independence Catalans] want to run away from," Laura said.
A long-awaited moment
Shortly before Puigdemont spoke, the atmosphere on the Passeig de Lluis Companys was filled with excitement and hope. "I have been waiting for this moment all my life," said an older woman in the crowd.
Thousands of people gathered near Barcelona's Arc de Triomf in anticipation of an independence delcaration
The event brought together people of all ages, many of whom spoke Catalan. But there were also Spanish speakers in the crowd, along with foreigners who joined the gathering out of curiosity. "It does not happen every day to see a new country born," said Joao, a young political scientist from Portugal.
Many independence supporters held red roses in their hands. While the Catalan president's speech was delayed for an hour, supporters entertained themselves with chants for independence and by taking bets on what Puigdemont would say. The majority of them were hopeful for the so-called "DUI," the Catalan acronym for a unilateral declaration of independence. Chants were loud, as was the heckling and whistles any time leaders from opposition groups appeared on screen.
Mixed feelings after Puigdemont's speech
Soon after the session at the Catalan parliament began, the crowd went silent. Some of the supporters were even brought to tears, hopeful for "long-awaited" self-determination. Instead, Puigdemont announced he would suspend the independence declaration for "a few weeks" to hold negotiations with the Spanish government in Madrid. The news came as a blow to the crowd gathered along the Passeig de Lluis Companys.
Confusion suddenly filled the air. Some applauded Puigdemont's words, while others whistled at them. Many people who came from cities over an hour away from Barcelona told DW that they felt their time was wasted.
Some independence supporters, mainly coming from left-wing independence organizations, began yelling that Puigdemont was "a traitor" and demanded he resign. As soon as the Catalan president's address was over, people began making their way home, disappointed and sour-faced.
Time to 'build bridges'
There was widespread consensus among those in the crowd that a plea for negotiation talks with the Spanish government would lead nowhere: "There is no turning back anymore," said Andreu, a physics student. "We do not want to hear from [the Spanish government] anymore. We cannot negotiate with them."
The confusion among the pro-independence supporters contrasted with the sighs of relief among the people who oppose it. "I was expecting the worst," said Maria Jose, a 45-year-old school teacher. "I just hope now that things will stay calm. That [the Catalan and Spanish governments] will start negotiations and build back the bridges they have destroyed."
"My parents are from southern Spain, migrants from the Spanish Civil War, like plenty of people [in the Catalan region]," she added. "This is why I feel both Catalan and Spanish. And there are so many people here who feel the same way. Breaking away from Spain is a completely reckless idea, I wonder if [the Catalan government] knows what it is doing."
Gerard, a young pharmacist from Barcelona, described how scared he was about the consequences of a unilateral declaration of independence. "I am really concerned about the economic consequences and the potential corporation exodus from Catalonia. Uncertainty, fracture, and hate speech have swept [Catalonia] in the last few months," he told DW. "I hope both parties come to terms soon."