This year I was fortunate enough to travel to Catalunya and witness the events of the Catalan National Day itself. Following the million strong march in Barcelona last 11th of September, the Assemblea Nacional Catalana (ANC) this year organised the 'Via Catalana', widely translated into English as the 'Catalan Way'- a 400 km Human chain that stretched over the northern border of Catalonia into the French territory of 'Catalunya Nord', down the length of the region to the southern border with Valencia. Inspired by the human chain that crossed the then soviet republics of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania in 1989 in the name of independence, 400,000 people pre-registered their involvement in the chain, whilst official figures place the overall involvement for the day at 1.6 million. The days events passed without incidence of violence or disruption and were widely and rightly qualified as a successful, peaceful and respectful demonstration of the Catalan peoples desire for independence from Spain.
|The Catalan Way near Tarragona (Source: Wikipedia)|
In this age of the tweet and the status update, an events success is invariably tied to its social media presence. The Via Catalana was no different, as hundreds and thousands of participants posted updates on the progress of the chain in their area to social networking sites. Instagram was flooded with pictures of estelades and yellow-shirt-clad Catalans, many changed Facebook profile pictures to the symbolic Catalan flag bearing the slogan 'jo vull ser llibre'- 'I want to be free', whilst several thousands took to twitter using the hashtag #viacatalana and, in the interests of creating international awareness, #CatalanWay.
However, by the afternoon of the 11th, it was noticed that while the hashtag #viacatalana was not featured as one of the sites 'trending topics', a list of the most used phrases on the site at any given time, a hashtag started by those with Spanish nationalist sympathies, #somespanya - 'we are spain', was. This lead to a rumor spreading over various social networks that the tweets of Catalans involved in the chain were being censured, a charge that the creators of the site strenuously deny. There was however, an interesting if bizarre turn in the twitter-tale of this Diada. Listeners of Jordi Basté and Toni Clapé's show on Catalan radio station RAC1 were encouraged to post tweets with the hashtag #croquetes, the well known 'tapa' that Spaniards, Catalans and tourists alike will be familiar with. Within the hour, 'croquetes' had become a trending topic, the well-known snack becoming a by-word for independence; a bread-crumb covered, deep-fried expression of the will of the Catalan people.
|Tram 95 near El Perelló|
Twitter continues to be a powerful tool in the days following the Catalan Way. On the afternoon of September 15th, thousands of Catalan tweeters combined to make #volemvotar- 'we want to vote' a trending topic Europe-wide for over 15 minutes, in a display designed to send a strong message to Spanish President Mariano Rajoy over the desire to decide their own future.
Whatever your personal opinions on the validity of Twitter as a medium of popular opinion, or the place of social networking within the modern news cycle, the benefits of sites such as twitter in the organisation and diffusion of news regarding events such as those of the 'Via Catalana' are undeniable. In a situation where events are so fluid and public opinion at once so strong and so polarised, the 140 character tweet has the power to bring together thousands of voices into a common cause, be those of high brow debate and opinion or basest insult and demagoguery. Due wide reaching international user base, I have no doubts that the tweet will remain a powerful tool in the coming months as the push towards #independència continues.
http://www.vilaweb.cat/noticia/4143908/20130915/xarxa-respon-carta-rajoy-volemvotar-massiu.html (In Catalan)
http://www.ara.cat/viacatalana/hipotetica-Viacatalana-letiqueta-protesta-croquetes_0_991101140.html (In Catalan)