S.Even before it starts, Columbus Square is overcrowded. On Goya and Serrano Streets, thousands of people are looking for a shady spot under the trees in the blazing midday heat. The largest demonstration in Spain since the outbreak of the corona pandemic almost a year and a half ago is like a peaceful Sunday stroll in the national colors of red, yellow and red – although many have come because they are angry.
“Whoever breaks the law has to pay for it. Spain is not a dictatorship, but a constitutional state, ”says a young father, who has pulled on a T-shirt from the Spanish national team. His entire family is with him, including the grandmother and grandchild. Tens of thousands of people have turned the square and the boulevards that lead to it into a sea of flags.
Some protect themselves from the scorching sun with umbrellas in the Spanish colors. Everyone is wearing face masks, while the police do not even try to enforce the safety distance of one and a half meters. The outrage over the plans of the left-wing government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is greater on Sunday afternoon than the fear of the new Delta variant from India, which is spreading more and more in Madrid.
Sánchez wants a conciliatory gesture
At the weekend, the left minority government reaffirmed that the pardons of nine Catalan separatists were imminent; they could be released from prison this summer. According to polls, a large majority of Spaniards oppose this. For their involvement in the Catalan independence referendum on October 1, 2017, the separatists are serving sentences of between nine and thirteen years.
Prime Minister Sánchez hopes with his conciliatory gesture to finally overcome the political blockade caused by the Catalonia conflict. The socialist head of government appeals to the Spaniards to “show themselves generously for a better future”. But the demonstrators on Columbus Square do not want to know anything about it. With the slogan “Equality before the law for all Spaniards, without exception”, the citizens’ initiative “Union 78” called for the rally. The name says it all: In 1978, after decades of Franco’s dictatorship, the democratic constitution was passed, which now has to be defended against attacks by its own government, demands “Union 78”.
Mario Vargas Llosa is there too
“Traitor Sánchez” is written on one of the posters on the square. “Resignation, resignation”, the crowd chants with clapping. The Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa has also sat down on a folding chair on Columbus Square. A petite older woman who, like her friend, wears a flag as a floor-length cloak, is annoyed. “The left call us fascists because we stand up for our constitution.” Even the Supreme Court stated in its report that the prerequisites for an act of grace are not met because the separatists show no remorse. “But that’s not what the government cares about. Sánchez does what he wants. His only goal is to stay in power, ”says the woman. A married couple agrees: “We are governed by a garbage coalition that is dominated by left-wing extremists and separatists. She has to go. After the rally today there is no turning back. “
Sánchez’s plan is politically very risky. Even in his PSOE party, he doesn’t have a majority in favor. So on Sunday there were also Spaniards on Columbus Square who had previously voted for the socialists: According to surveys, more than half of them reject the pardons. Among them is the first PSOE Prime Minister Felipe González. In the rest of the population, rejection varies between 60 and 70 percent. In Catalonia it is exactly the other way around. The harsh judgments against the separatists go too far there for many Catalans who do not want their own state. So on Friday only a good 200 people came to a demonstration against the pardons in Barcelona.