With an appeal to block Barcelona’s airport, a new, mysterious organization called “Democratic Tsunami” has raised the temperature of Catalan separatist protests in Spain, which until now have been peaceful.
The leaders of the movement remain unknown, using social media and encrypted messaging apps to rally thousands of supporters against jail terms meted out to nine separatist leaders over their role in a failed 2017 secession bid.
The Spanish Ministry of the Interior said that about 10,000 people blocked access to Barcelona airport for several hours on Monday, heeding widespread calls on social media to “Turn Catalonia into the new Hong Kong.”
It was the most disruptive protest held to date by the modern Catalan separatist movement: 110 flights were canceled and 115 people were injured during clashes with police.
“This is just the beginning, we have to prepare for what is coming and ensure the democratic tsunami is unstoppable,” the group wrote in a tweet late on Monday after the airport protest made headlines around the world.
The tone contrasts with the festive style of the first mass pro-independence rallies staged nearly a decade ago by influential grass-roots separatist associations Assemblea Nacional Catalana and Omnium, which dubbed the movement the “revolution of smiles.”
However, after the failure of the 2017 separatist bid which culminated with a banned referendum followed by a declaration of independence, a part of the separatist camp understood that “this revolution of smiles did not end well,” historian and political analyst Joan Esculies said.
“Democratic Tsunami wants to lead a sort of urban guerrilla war with one-off actions,” he said.
Caught off guard by the size of the airport protest, the media and the government are looking into who is behind the new movement.
“I have no doubt we will end up finding out who’s behind Democratic Tsunami,” Spanish Minister of the Interior Fernando Grande-Marlaska told public radio broadcaster RNE on Tuesday.
The group first appeared on social media last month as a campaign to mobilize separatists ahead of the Spanish Supreme Court’s verdicts in the trial of the separatist leaders on the basis of “civil disobedience” and a “non-violent struggle.”
Its creation came a day after several separatist leaders met in Switzerland, including former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, raising suspicion that the movement was created by Catalan separatist parties.
Democratic Tsunami strongly denies it.
The movement “brings together people of different sensibilities ... but it is not controlled by any entity or party, even if they are informed of how it is structured,” one of its organizers said.
The leaders of the movement usually issue their directions to their supporters through Russian-designed encrypted messaging service Telegram, where they have 150,000 followers.
The movement on Monday launched its own mobile app to distribute messages.
To use it a QR code is needed and it can only be obtained from a member of the organization.
It also put its name to a video recorded in English by Manchester City’s Catalan coach Pep Guardiola, in which the English Premier League manager accused Spain of drifting “towards authoritarianism.”
In its tweet, the group said Guardiola’s statement had been broadcast by Agence France-Presse, which was not true.
The group also launched an appeal to block Madrid airport with 1,200 vehicles and claimed that the operation was a success, although Spanish airport authority AENA and other officials said there was no disruption.
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