Since medieval times Catalans have celebrated the feast of their patron, Sant Jordi, or Saint George, on April 23, which happens to coincide with the deaths of both William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes.
Almost a century ago, business-savvy publishers turned it into a book-selling event. Men traditionally offer women roses, and women buy them books in return — though these days women also receive books to ensure gender equality. All through Barcelona and other Catalan cities, bookstands are erected side-by-side with flower stalls.
But this year, after months of secessionist turmoil, not even a festive day of books and roses was immune to the political divides of Catalan society. The question was, perhaps inevitably, to be, or not to be, independent.
Ada Colau, Barcelona’s far-left mayor, wore a yellow rose as a lapel pin, a nod to the yellow ribbon that has become the symbol of Catalans demanding the release of jailed Catalan politicians awaiting trial for rebellion, after briefly declaring independence from Spain last October.
“Of course Sant Jordi is always a great feast, but it’s also true that this Sant Jordi isn’t like all others, and that we now have people who are in prison instead of being out on the streets, enjoying this with us,” Ms. Colau said.
She also lamented the fact that Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government was still administering direct rule over Catalonia.
Not everyone was pleased to listen to her.
“Catalan society is divided, so Sant Jordi should never be the day to talk politics and divide people even more,” said Álex Sàlmon, the editor of the Catalan edition of El Mundo, a Spanish newspaper.
Along the Diagonal avenue, which crosses Barcelona, some people gathered around a book stall to celebrate the fictitious Republic of Tabarnia, a jab at the separatist parties who failed to win a majority of the votes in many parts of Catalonia, including within Barcelona.
The book stall was selling copies of nine different books opposed to independence.
“Separatism has infiltrated and tried to destroy every aspect of life in Catalonia, even sadly Sant Jordi,” said Albert Boadella, a playwright who is the unofficial “president” of Tabarnia, as his supporters lined…