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World

In Catalonia, Thousands March For Independence From Spain

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Today is the national day of Catalonia, that's the northeast region of Spain, which just like Scotland is weighing whether to break away and form its own country in Europe. Millions of people attended pro-independence rallies across the region today. Lauren Frayer reports from the streets of the Catalan capital, Barcelona.

(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Barcelona's gothic quarter echoes with a choir mourning Catalonia's loss in a war with Spain 300 years ago.

XAVI MORAL: Today is our Catalan national day. Year after year, we are celebrating it to remember all the people who lost their life because they were fighting against Spanish army.

FRAYER: But Xavi Moral, a 25-year-old engineer, says this year, Catalans are looking more to the future than the past.

MORAL: We are just looking what could happen in Scotland. They will be able to do the referendum the next week, and we are quite jealous.

FRAYER: Catalans, with their own language and culture have long sought autonomy from Spain. That desire grew stronger during the economic crisis. Catalonia is Spain's wealthiest region, and many here thought they were unfairly subsidizing poorer parts of Spain. Many are now convinced this is the moment to break away.

ARTUR MAS: So if the Scottish people have the right to decide their political future, why not the Catalan people?

FRAYER: Catalan leader Artur Mas hopes to emulate Scotland, which votes next week on independence from Britain. Catalonia plans to do the same in November, but the Spanish government in Madrid says that's illegal and vows to block any such vote. Mas refuses to back down.

MAS: There is no plan B because the only plan is to vote.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).

FRAYER: Protesters march up and down Barcelona's wide avenues. And a human chain in the shape of a V for vote spreads out across the Catalan capital. Participant Sandra Silva says at times like this...

SANDRA SILVA: I feel 200 percent Catalonian. If anyone asks me, I say, no, no, no. I'm from Spain, but I was born in Catalonia, so I'm Catalan. I don't say I'm Spanish.

FRAYER: But polls show that much like Scotland, Catalans are divided over whether to break away and form their own country in Europe. It could be costly, and membership in the European Union and euro currency are not guaranteed. So while Barcelona's streets echo with freedom-minded Catalans, there are also people like Susana Beltran, Catalans who oppose independence, sitting out these protests.

SUSANA BELTRAN: I'm Spanish. For me it's not a problem. I love my two languages, no? I love Catalan. I love Spanish. And I love my culture. For me it's not a problem to have two identities or three because I feel European citizen as well.

FRAYER: Europe's map could be altered, though, based on what happens in Scotland and in Catalonia this fall. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Barcelona. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.