NOWHERE epitomises liberty, patriotism and the right to self-determination like the Rock of Gibraltar.
Red and white pride runs through the British Territory like the letters in a stick of rock candy – always there, whichever way you suck it.
But on one day of the year in particular, everyone’s invited to savour the flavour of this little nation’s fervour as it honours its great history with the mother of all parties.
Gibraltar National Day on September 10 is the climax to a National Week of celebrations, topped by the epic Gibraltar Music Festival, this year headlining The Script.
The Big Day itself is a colourful cocktail of feasting, fireworks and festivities that mixes one part politics to two parts pleasure.
Organised by the Self Determination for Gibraltar Group in conjunction with the Ministry of Culture, the annual celebration commemorates one of the most important moments in Gibraltar’s history: the referendum of 1967, when citizens had a say on their sovereignty for the very first time.
An overwhelming 99% of Gibraltarians voted to remain British, and 47 years later, they are just as impassioned. Against increasing hostilities from Spain over their rights to airspace, land and sea – ramped up by inhumane border controls and incursions into their territorial waters – the defiant citizens wear their hearts on their sleeves for all to see on National Day.
The mass release of 30,000 balloons – one to represent every citizen of the Rock – along with the open air evening concert and grand finale of fireworks are highlights but there is much more going on throughout the day.
As Gibraltarian Sid Olivera explained: “The day is fantastic fun, everybody is in a party mood to celebrate the fact they are politically, commercially and truly Gibraltarian.”
Casemates Square takes centre stage for the celebrations which kick off at 9.30am with live music and performances.
The release of the traditional red and white biodegradable balloons at 1pm – a sight synonymous with Gibraltar and self-determination – is the climax to the political rally, announcing to the world that Gibraltarians continue to live in freedom, the way they choose to, under the protection of the British crown.
Everyone turns out, even the elderly and disabled who can book advance seating for the Casemates Square event.
“It’s definitely the most important day of the year, everyone is on the streets, in the cafes and bars, or on the beaches,” said Serbian Dusan Karaica, who moved to Gibraltar from the Costa del Sol.
“They are all proudly wearing red and white and it’s such a great atmosphere.”
Kid’s activities, live music and DJ’S will also keep the crowds entertained at other locations, including King’s Bastion Leisure Centre. Victoria Stadium will host the Monkey Rocks festival (1-10pm) with Route 94, Chrisonlin and Jestin and Mif among the live acts.
Later, top local artists including The Soul Mates and Guy Valarino will take to the stage for
the Rock concert in Casemates Square (9.30pm-12.30am) and, at the height of the festivities (10.30pm) the legendary fireworks display will light up the sky, making Gibraltar’s presence firmly seen and heard in Spain.
“Living in Gibraltar is paradise compared to many places, and National Day is the perfect celebration for it,” enthused resident Anne Burn. While another, artist Shane Dalmedo, added: “For me Gibraltar is an inspiring place to live in, it’s a great feeling to be Gibraltarian.”
Last year, with the Gibraltar flag flying over the Foreign Office in London, Prime Minister David Cameron joined the celebrations in spirit, rallying his loyal troops from a giant screen in Casemates. “For 300 years we have stood together, as one with our shared sovereign. Let’s keep it that way,” he proclaimed to roars of approval.
“Let me assure you that the British people and my Government stand with you now. Our relationship is solid, sure and enduring.”
These sentiments are increasingly important to Gibraltar in the light of damaging press, such as the Spanish media’s coverage of an EU report into contraband tobacco this August.
According to anti-fraud office OLAF’s report, tobacco smuggling on the Rock cost the EU €700 million in tax revenue between 2010 and 2013.
Gibraltar’s government has hit out at ‘sensationalist’ reporting by the Spanish media.
It has also criticised Spanish TV channel, Antenna 3, for apparently ‘staging’ tobacco smuggling scenes and then portraying them as real, also slamming the ‘rabid and un-objective coverage being afforded to Gibraltar and the issue of tobacco smuggling in the Spanish media’.
Meanwhile, border controls are creating massive queues at peak times, forcing tourists and commuters to endure hours in sweltering heat in order to enter or exit Gibraltar. Annual tourism income plummeted by £73 million as a result, according to this year’s budget.
It was no surprise when statistics released in July revealed that the hold-ups were a deliberate ploy on the part of Spain.
Acting Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia commented: “The drop in cars crossing the border from 12.7 per minute to 1.5 is undeniable proof of the way in which delays are being generated.
“The flow rate is clearly deliberately reduced by the authorities, and waiting times of three hours are simply intolerable in an internal border of the European Union.
“The brunt of this hardship is borne by EU nationals, thousands of whom live in Spain but work in Gibraltar. Needless to say, residents of Gibraltar and tourists are also being affected.”
This will not be forgotten but, rather, put out of mind on September 10, as Gibraltarians display their bulldog determination to enjoy a day of festivities in defence of their sovereignty, and spread their inspiring message to the world (and to Spain, too, with fireworks). Come what may, it will be all red and white on the night.
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