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Who is the real power behind Catalonia’s independence movement?

A look at the grassroots campaigners behind Catalonia's independence drive.

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Who is the real power behind Catalonia’s independence movement?

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Carles Puigdemont is the face of the Catalan independence movement.

Behind him there is the left-leaning Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) party that is keeping Together for Yes, an alliance of pro-independence groups which includes Puigdemont‘s grouping, in power.

But that is only half the story, if you want to understand the independence movement’s magnitude and machinations.

In the political background there are two key grassroots campaigning groups: Òmnium Cultural and Assemblea Nacional Catalana (ANC).

They are hard to pinpoint on the political map, especially if you are not familiar with Catalonian politics or the independence movement.

Even though they are not accountable to the electorate, the duo were key to planning the referendum and the demonstrations on Catalonia’s national day, September 11.

Their leaders are never too far away from the key political moments and they have privileged access to members of the government.

And their members are the first ones on the streets handing out leaflets, independence flags, and organising the crowds.

They are also very active on social media platforms.

Spain’s National Court seemingly understands their importance and has accused them of ‘sedition’, while the country’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, says they are behind the logistics of the independence referendum.


Òmnium: the older sister with a cultural vocation

Òmnium Cultural, one of the grassroots campaigning groups behind the independence referendum, began in 1961.

Founded by six Catalan businessmen, its raison d‘être was to “preserve the Catalan culture” amid persecution during dictator Franco’s era.

According to data from Spanish newspaper ABC, Ómnium has received 20 million euros in state aid between 2005 and 2012.

When it became public the independence movement was being helped by Òmnium and ANC, the financial help was cut considerably. However they managed to increase income from other sources, most notably donations (from individuals and businesses) and service provision, which critics said was hidden public funding.

Òmnium Cultural, currently headed by businessman Jordi Cuixart, who is involved in the ‘sedition’ case, has 55 employees and 70,000 partners in more than 40 offices.

It has a budget of more than 5.5 million euros, details of which are published online. Their main income comes from membership fees, netting around 3.7 million euros.

Their agenda includes cultural extravaganzas and conferences, but their political role goes much further. They present themselves as “the main civic and cultural entity of the country,” which works for the “social cohesion of the country constructed by the shared battles” that shape Catalonian society.

On social media platforms, they act as a communication source for Catalonia’s independence movement.


One of the its most prominent partners is the football coach Pep Guardiola, formerly at Catalan giants Barcelona, now in England with Manchester City.

Assemblea Nacional Catalana: the younger sister with the capacity to mobilise


ANC, formed in 2011, defines itself as “a cross-sectional and unitary organisation with the objective to achieve independence for Catalonia through democratic and pacific means”.

It talks of its pride at having organised the “biggest mobilisations in Catalonian history” when demonstrations were held on the north-east region’s September 11 national day in 2012 and 2013.

The ANC, which does not have a cultural wing like Ómnium, was born out of unofficial votes on independence from 2009 onwards and the subsequent social movements they created.

Its president, Jordi Sánchez, is also being investigated by Spain’s National Court for sedition

The campaigners’ principal activities are mobilisation logistics, independence propaganda and selling merchandise.

Sometimes, it intervenes as a real political party, getting itself involved in subjects as basic as the Catalonia’s finances.

ANC’s budget is not published online but according to online newspaper El Confidencial its income totalled 3.3 million euros in 2016.

The organisation raked in a similar amount in 2013 of which membership fees made up 657,000 euros, according to El Mundo.

Its biggest source of revenue came from individual donations (1.7 million euros) and the selling of merchandise (1.1 million euros).

A well-oiled machine

The power of these organisations to mobilise the grassroots base is immense and bigger than some political parties, according to their critics.

And Òmnium and ANC have been working in perfect harmong with Catalonia’s pro-independence government.

Their ability to mobilise people irks anti-independence supporters, who send strong criticism and harsh words their way.

The leader of the Partido Popular (Popular Party) in Catalonia, Xavier García Albiol, said recently ANC and Òmnium were the rhythm of Catalonian democratic institutions, not the other way around.

Former MEP Ignasi Guardans said “power is not in the Catalan Parliament but in the assemblies of Òmnium, ANC, and CUP”.

These organisations are often said to be the muscle or engine of the Catalonian independence movement, but many are now starting to ask themselves if they are not in facts the brains or the drivers.