‘Tsunami Democràtic’: the Catalan Separatist Group Inspired by Hong Kong

TOPSHOT - Protesters clash with a Spanish policeman outside El Prat airport in Barcelona on October 14, 2019 as thousands of angry protesters took to the streets after Spain's Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan separatist leaders to between nine and 13 years in jail for sedition over the failed 2017 …
JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images

The socialist government of Spain is trying to clamp down on ‘Tsunami Democràtic’, the Catalan separatist group that has taken inspiration from the pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong and was behind the mass protests earlier this week at the El Prat Airport in Barcelona.

Thousands of people have taken to the streets of Catalonia to protest the Spanish Supreme Court ruling on Monday that convicted Catalan secession leaders of “sedition” for their roles in the 2017 independence referendum.  Nine of the 12 defendants, mostly former members of the Catalan government, were given prison sentences of up to 13 years.

The people of Catalonia have long desired independence, resentful that the wealth created in their region is being redistributed to the other regions of Spain. In 2017, Spain declared that the independence referendum was illegal and moved to suppress the vote. The European Union supported Spain and its aggressive police tactics against those seeking independence.

After the Supreme Court’s decision, Tsunami Democràtic, a newly founded Catalonia separatist group, called on people to occupy the El Prat Airport. In an act of civil disobedience, the group also distributed fake boarding passes at the airport in order to cause delays. Over 100 flights were cancelled due to the disruption.

Spanish newspaper El Pais reported that large crowds of mostly young people were shouting: “We are going to make a Hong Kong!”

The protests at the Barcelona airport were reminiscent of actions taken by pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong over the summer, when thousands of demonstrators descended on the Hong Kong airport, forcing the airport to cancel all flights.

Spanish police used foam bullets and batons to drive back the largely peaceful protestors from the airport. One man lost an eye after being shot by the police with either a foam or rubber bullet. So far, over 200 people have been injured in protests since the court ruling on Monday.

Similar to the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, Tsunami Democràtic’s success is due in large part to their use of encrypted messaging services such as WhatsApp and Telegram. There are currently over 300,000 people following the group’s main Telegram channel and another 178,000 followers on Twitter.

Using encrypted messaging apps not only serves as a means of protecting the identity of the leaders but allows the movement to be more organic and grassroots-based.

Head of LaBase Communication Studio, Àlex Comes, told El Mundo: “They get that the slogans from political parties are not as influential as hearing from people close to you, from your family, it adds greater credibility to the message. It is not told by a politician, but your brother-in-law.”

Verónica Fumanal, a political communications expert, said: “Everything is perfectly designed. The power of WhatsApp or Telegram is that they generate a pyramid. You start with a group of 10. If those 10 generate other groups of 10, you already have 100. And if those 100 have another 10, you no longer have 1,000, you have 10,000.”

Not much is currently known about Tsunami Democràtic as an organisation. The group’s leadership remains anonymous, and their website was registered in Saint Kitts and Nevis, a small Caribbean island nation in the Antilles, further cloaking them from Spanish authorities.

The socialist government in Madrid, fearful of the separatist group’s rise, has tasked Spanish intelligence agencies to investigate the group.

The Minister of the Interior, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, speaking to La Vanguardia, said: “There are investigations. We will end up knowing who is behind these movements of the Democràtic Tsunami.”

Tsunami Democràtic first appeared on Twitter in August and published their first video on September 2.

This statement accompanied the video of a boiling pot of water: “The new wave begins, and you are the protagonist. We will change the state of things. You are the tsunami!”

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