Today is a big day in Catalonia. It's La Diada, Catalonia's National Day, which commemorates the fall of Barcelona to Felipe V's Franco-Castilian army on September 11th 1714 and the subsequent loss of all of Catalonia's independent charters and institutions.
La Diada has always had an emotional force but over the last few years the demonstrations have made the news. In the first big modern demonstration in 2012, 1.5 million people took to the streets of Barcelona calling for independence under the slogan of "Catalonia, New European State". A year later, on the Catalan Way, 1.6 million people joined hands in a 400-kilometre human chain, which stretched the length of Catalonia from the French border in the north to the Valencian border in the south.
Everybody thought that last year was the definitive mother of all Diadas, when 1.8 million people formed a red and gold human V mosaic along Barcelona's two main streets of Gran Via and Diagonal. 2014 was not only the 300th anniversary of the fall of Barcelona in 1714 but the Diada also looked forward to the unofficial vote on Catalan independence that would take place on November 9th. The V stood for both Vote and for Victory.
However, this year's Diada looks like it's going to be even more momentous than the last three. More than 1.5 million people are expected to fill Avinguda Meridiana, Barcelona's main motorway entrance from the north leading to doors of the Parliament of Catalonia, in the Via Lliure or Way to Freedom. This year there will be a multicoloured mosaic that points to Parliament and marks the start of probably the most important electoral campaign in Catalan history.
On September 27th, after three years of trying to reach an agreement with the Spanish government to hold a legal referendum, Catalonia will be holding autonomous elections, which the pro-independence parties have turned into a de facto referendum or plebiscite. The main pro-independence coalition is Junts pel Sí or Together for YES and combines centre-right Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya (CDC), led by Artur Mas, the current President of the Generalitat, who is running at number 4 in the electoral list, and the left-wing republicans of the traditional pro-independence party Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC), led by Oriol Junqueras, who is standing at number 5 in the list.
What is incredible about the candidacy is not only that the arch-rivals of Catalan politics, CDC and ERC, have managed to form a coalition but that the first three places in the list are occupied literally by independents. At number 1, Raul Romeva is a far left-wing ecosocialist who was MEP for rival Iniciativa per Catalunya-Verds. At numbers 2 and 3, Carme Forcadell and Muriel Casals are former presidents of the Assemblea Nacional Catalana and Òmnium Cultural, the two main civil society groups that have organised the pro-independence movement in Catalonia since its beginnings in 2010.
The other main pro-independence party is the far-left CUP and their votes will be counted as a YES for independence on September 27th. Votes for all the other parties, Catalunya, sí que es pot, Ciudadanos, PSC and PP, will be counted as a NO to independence.
Today's Diada will be full of its typical civic and festive atmosphere but this month is make or break for the Catalan independence movement so will also be very politically charged.