Julio Hurtado, Barcelona, 8 October 2022
Image of the march called by Societat Civil Catalana on 8 October 2017 in defence of the unity of Spain Xavier Cervera / archive
“The day we were not alone”
8 of October DEMONSTRATION
If there was 8 of October it is because there was 1-O. After the traumatic celebration, a week earlier, of the unilateral referendum on independence, on 8 of October 2017 hundreds of thousands of Catalans flooded the streets of Barcelona to defend the unity of Spain. Action, reaction.
Today marks five years and Societat Civil Catalana (SCC), the constitutionalist organisation that, together with other actors, such as the Joan Boscà Foundation, organised that massive demonstration that surprised all and sundry, celebrates it “in privacy”. Each moment requires a different adaptation, explains its vice-president Álex Ramos, who played a very active role in 2017 and in 2022 sees no reason to be “hyper-revolutionary” but vigilant: “We are there, and we will react again when appropriate,” he says with conviction.
The organisers affirm that on 😯 the “fear” they felt in the previous days was transformed into “illusion”.
“That day we realised that we were not alone,” recalls SCC president Elda Mata, who saw as she boarded the train that took her from a station in the province of Girona to Barcelona how the “illusion” overcame the “fear” that Catalans who felt Spanish had felt in the previous days.
Fear is a recurring sentiment when recalling what happened. Fernando Sánchez Costa, who chaired the SCC for three years and today aspires to be the PP’s candidate for mayor in Barcelona, also alludes to it. “It was a historic turning point,” he explains. For Catalonia, which saw its other self-reflected in the mirror, but also for Spain and Europe, where they discovered that the narrative of hegemonic nationalism did not match that massive “coming out of the ideological wardrobe”. The public space, all sources agree, could not be left in the hands of one part of society while the other remained silent.
The gestation was not easy. The parties had been reticent not to “fester” the situation any further, and the SCC itself ruled out demonstrating, as it had planned, before 1-O due to the doubts of Mariano Rajoy’s government. But the images of that “drama” convinced Mariano Gomà, then president of the SCC, that action had to be taken. He called Mario Vargas Llosa, who, as suggested by Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo, who accompanied him, could deliver a ‘universal declaration’ against nationalism, and Ramos, a PSC militant, convinced Josep Borrell, who galvanised the attendance of the non-independence left.
All in all, the Socialists had a discreet presence and Miquel Iceta ceded the limelight to Salvador Illa, who then forged the chapter in his biography that took him first to Madrid as health minister and later back to Catalonia as leader of the PSC.
Ciudadanos, which some sources reproached for “not helping much but taking advantage” of the march to propel Albert Rivera into Spanish politics, and PP were also invited to participate, but with the condition that at the final rally, even if their leaders were on stage, they would not speak.
It was indescribable. You couldn’t step forward onto the Via Laietana. The city was collapsed”.
“It was indescribable. You couldn’t take a step forward towards Via Laietana. The city was collapsed,” recalls an attendee, who defines that “peaceful and festive” protest as the “counterpoint to the tremendous environmental tension” unleashed by the procés, which culminated in the shock of police violence against unarmed citizens. “It was all very unfortunate. The state was absolutely clumsy and gave a propaganda campaign to the pro-independence movement,” says a businessman who participated in the creation of SCC, founded in 2014 to counter the pro-independence project.
Without anyone in the organisation having foreseen it when on Monday 2 October the board of directors decided to call the demonstration for Sunday 8, the King’s speech on 3 October served as a “revulsive” for the mobilisation, which was being talked about more and more on television talk shows and was already flooding social networks, to crystallise. “It was a sudden injection of vitamins”, recalls Gomà, who sees it as “logical” that the pro-independence supporters, “within their vehemence”, accuse Felipe VI of lacking empathy in those hours.
With the passage of time, the SCC has not forgotten its successful launch, which was followed by turbulent years, with a reputational crisis in between, and is acting discreetly, taking its network of influence to political offices in Catalonia, Spain, and Europe. “If we have to go out again, we will go out again”, assures its president, who criticises the fact that the political parties of the constitutionalist orbit have returned to the “exchange of cards” with Catalan nationalism.