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Hundreds Of Thousands Rally Against Catalan Secession

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Our colleague, Lauren Frayer, is in Barcelona, the Spanish region of Catalonia, listening to people say they do not want change.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTORS: (Chanting in foreign language).

INSKEEP: They're chanting, I am Spanish, meaning they do not want Catalonia to declare independence from Spain. The separatist party that rules Catalonia held a referendum on independence October 1, which was disrupted by police, and leaders now talk of declaring independence this week. So, Lauren Frayer, how divided are people where you are?

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: They're pretty divided. I mean, opinion polls have long showed that Catalans are divided on the question of independence. Though a vast majority want the right to vote on the issue, Spain denied them that right. Catalan leaders went ahead anyway and held that independence referendum on October 1st. And you mentioned those shocking scenes of Spanish police raiding polling stations and beating voters, and the police violence sort of galvanized people. It created a lot of sympathy for Catalans both in and outside of Spain. But what we saw this weekend was people coming out and saying look, yes, those scenes were unfortunate, I'm against police brutality, but it hasn't changed my basic position that I'm also against Catalonia breaking away from Spain. And it may even be a majority of Catalans who feel this way, who have been pretty silent until now because they were really defending the status quo of staying inside Spain.

INSKEEP: And - and now they've got a reason to be pretty passionate because things are getting so dramatic. So what issues divide people besides their response to the referendum?

FRAYER: Well, separatist leaders cite the repression that Catalans suffered under a nearly 40-year dictatorship here of Francisco Franco. He died in 1975, but you know, anybody older than age 40 will remember that repression. Much more recently, Catalonia has become Spain's richest region, and some separatist leaders say Catalonia would be better off not subsidizing poorer parts of Spain. Yesterday in the crowd, people were very critical of independence, though. In fact, we had a Nobel Prize winner, Mario Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian novelist, addressed the crowd. And he warned of the dangers of nationalism in Europe, in this case, Catalan nationalism. Among those in the crowd listening was Jose Manuel Gonzalez. He's 45 years old, a businessman born and raised in Barcelona, and here's what he said.

JOSE MANUEL GONZALEZ: I don't think they will be better at all because they want to become independent and also take the country outside of the European Union and outside of Spain, and it will be very bad for everybody here in Catalonia.

FRAYER: And on that one point, he's right. An independent Catalonia would have to leave the EU at least initially. Trade barriers could go up. We've already seen big banks and other businesses say they'll relocate out of Catalonia if there is a declaration of independence here. I met one woman last night who was already withdrawing her money from a Catalan bank, afraid of the - of a run on the banks here if Catalonia goes independent.

INSKEEP: Well, of course financial issues are a big part of this, but so's national identity. I'm curious, Lauren, as you talk to people, do you really run into a lot of Catalonians who say the opposite of those demonstrators - I am not Spanish, I am not in any way part of Spain?

FRAYER: We do because we've seen a generation of Catalans who've been raised in Catalan language. The Catalan school system is completely in - in Catalan and so they're - sort of anybody under 40 has been raised completely in Catalan language, and that has - that has led them to disproportionately support independence. The Catalan president has said he'll declare independence within days. A week has gone by, and that still hasn't happened.

INSKEEP: Lauren Frayer in Catalonia, thanks very much.

FRAYER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.