Cataluña - Country or Province

201711CATALUNYAThe Autonomous Region of Cataluña in the north east of Spain and on the borders of France, consists of the provinces of Barcelona, Tarragona, Lleida, and Girona.   In France itself the district of Rousillon may also be considered Catalán.   But whilst there is no discernable movement for independence in that area, any consideration of Catalán nationalism has also to take into account  other “Catalán countries” who may also be encouraged to make claims; Valencia and the Balearic Islands.   Cataluña itself is the richest and most industrialised part of Spain.   Its textile industry dates back to the thirteenth century, and remained dominant until the 1950s, when industries such as food processing, pharmaceuticals, and metalworking came into prominence.   Car manufacturing for Seat and Nissan also predominate, and this has encouraged the growth of petroleum refining in Tarragona.   The tourism industry is highly developed.  The region has played an important part in the history of the peninsula, but only once, in the eleventh century, has it been truly independent.   The failure of Hugh Capet (940-996), the first King of the Franks, to help Count Borrell II beat back the Moors under Almanzor  in 987, resulted in the region declaring independence.   By 1070 Count Ramon Berenguer I had subordinated the local magnates and leaders of the region into what is recognisably the embryonic County of Barcelona.   Two factors favoured this movement; stable government and cultural prosperity.    When in 1137, Count Ramon Berenguer IV of Barcelona married Petronila, Queen of Aragon, the region was sufficiently well organised to have a Corts; a representative body of nobles and ecclesiastics able to check the king’s authority.   By this marriage Cataluña became a principality of the Kingdom of  Aragon.   In the 13th century King Jaime I conquered Valencia and the Balearic Islands, and by 1350 it was stated that the crown of  Aragon “presided over one of the most extensive and powerful mercantile empires of the Mediterranean”.   In 1469 the son of Juan II of Aragon, Fernando, married Isabel of Castile, and so it became part of a unified kingdom, whilst retaining its autonomy and its Corts, to which had been added the standing body known as the Generalitat, which included representatives of the rising bourgeoisie.    Whilst the marriage of the monarchs was happy and successful, the marriage of Cataluña with the  rest of the peninsula was not.   As early as 1410, when the male line of the Counts of Barcelona failed, a new Trastámara dynasty ascended the Aragonese throne, and rumblings of discontent began to be heard.   This finally broke out into open rebellion during the reign of Juan II “The Faithless” (1398-1479), and lasted from 1458 until the king’s death in 1479.  

The unification of what later became known as “Spain” hastened the decline in Cataluña’s influence.   This had already started in the mid 14th century when famine and plague had decimated the region.   The population dropped from half to a quarter of a million, sparking the sort of tensions and revolts which hit England at the time of the Black Death.   The “Age of Discovery”, which brought riches from the Americas to prosper Andalusia, further diminished Cataluña.   The Mediterranean lost much of its trading importance as a result of the new Atlantic routes.   Discontent at such decline continued to simmer, until in 1640 the region placed itself under the protection of Louis XIV of  France.   The revolt was put down in the 1650s.   When on November 1st, 1700, Carlos II of Spain died, Spain was left without a ruler.  He was physically disabled, mentally retarded and disfigured.  A large tongue made his speech difficult to understand.   He was bald by the age of 35, and he died senile and wracked by epileptic seizures. He had two wives, but being impotent he had no children.   (This happens after 16 generations of inbreeding!)   The three principal powers of Europe, England, France and the Dutch Republic all had an interest in the succession.   In 1698 they had signed a treaty agreeing that Prince Joseph Ferdinand of Bavaria should accede to the Spanish throne.   However in 1699 he died.   Two new treaties, in 1699 and 1700, partitioned the territories under Spanish rule, and awarded Spain itself to the Archduke Charles, second son of Leopold, the Holy Roman Emperor.   Leopold and the Spanish Grandees refused to accept the partition of territories, and in despair Carlos II made a will leaving his entire empire to Philip, duc d’Anjou, the grandson of Louis XIV.   Upon the death of Carlos, Louis declared his grandson to be Felipe V, King of Spain, the Spanish Netherlands, and all Spanish colonies.   As a consequence the War of the Spanish Succession broke out, with France supporting Felipe, and with England, the Dutch, the Holy Roman Empire, Prussia, Portugal and various German states supporting the Archduke Charles.   Cataluña declared its support for Charles.   When in 1713 the Treaty of Utrecht brought the war to a close, it left Spain in the hands of Felipe V, first Bourbon King of Spain, (and, of course, it also left Gibraltar in the hands of the British).   Under him Spain ceased to be a “de facto” unified state, and became a “de jure” centralised one.  In pursuit of this aim in 1714 he invaded Cataluña, and abolished its constitution and autonomy.  ( It would be a strange quirk of history if it was under his descendant Felipe VI that a similar situation was brought to pass!)

For a time Cataluña remained quiescent.   But during the 19th century events in Madrid once again stirred the hearts of Cataláns.   On 29th March 1830 the unpopular and illiberal Fernando VII issued a “Pragmatic Sanction” which ratified a decree issued by Carlos IV in 1789 replacing the “Salic Law” established by Felipe V.   Felipe, a French Bourbon, introduced this law into Spain from France.   It stated that no woman could succeed to the throne.   Fernando, however, fathered only two daughters, Isabella and Luisa Fernando.   His “Pragmatic  Sanction” restored the old Spanish custom by which a woman could inherit.   In effect, this debarred his brother Carlos from the throne, which under Salic Law  he would have inherited.   When, therefore, Fernando died on the 29th September, 1833, mourned by virtually nobody, Isabella, at the age of three, was proclaimed Queen of Spain.   Don Carlos was firmly supported by the “Apostólico”, an extreme conservative clerical party, which in 1827 had mobilised a group of paramilitary royalist volunteers, many of them Cataláns sporting the Carlist red beret.   So began the “Carlist Wars”.   Cataluña sided with Don Carlos against Isabella.   The Carlist movement, although defeated, managed a second war in the 1840s, an attempted military coup d’état in 1860, and an all-out war between 1872 and 1876 following the deposition of Isabella II.   Following the restoration of her son, Alfonso XII in 1874, Carlism, as it was called, declined in importance until 1900 to 1902.   Following the defeat of  Spain in the Spanish-American War and the loss of her colonies it had a brief resurgence.   As we shall see, this defeat also had a profound influence on Cataluña.   Despite this, however, Carlism gradually weakened until it was merged with the “Falange” (a Spanish political organization of Fascist inspiration active in 1933 and 1934) by General Franco.   The Carlist party’s vicissitudes, however, prompted the conservative elements in Cataluña to look elsewhere for the means to restore the region’s importance.   So appeared the “Renaixença” or Rebirth.  

Beginning in the 1850s serious efforts were made to revive the language and culture of the region, but political considerations quickly came to the fore.   The Catalán general, Juan Prim, had led an abortive revolution in 1868 in an attempt to liberalise the Spanish government which was becoming increasingly authoritarian under Isabella II, and this in turn had led to the establishment of the short lived First Republic.   Many Cataláns expected a similar republic to be established in Cataluña, but on 29 December 1874 a coup d’état led by General Martinéz Campos restored the Bourbon monarchy in the personage of Don Alfonso de Borbón, son of Isabel II    After 1876 the Church threw its weight behind the republican movement, which led to calls for full autonomy.   This movement for autonomy had two strands: the conservative Church led one, and the other was both liberal and secular..   This latter strand placed considerable emphasis on Cataluña’s history.   The past was used to give meaning and legitimacy to present aspirations.   An emphasis began to be laid on the difference between Catalans and other Spaniards.   Writers like Joan Cortada were of the opinion that “Cataláns have succeeded in developing a strong sense of resolution and constancy over the centuries.   Another feature of their character was the  fact that they were a hardworking people”.  (More than a hint there of his opinion regarding the majority of Spaniards!)   By the last third of the 19th century the Catalán bourgeoisie and industrialists realised that they could make little headway in trying to influence the Spanish state.   As Pierre Vilar observed in 1980: It is only because , in its acquisition of the Spanish market, the Cataln industrial bourgeoisie did not succeed either in securing the state apparatus or identifying its interests with those of the whole of Spain, in influential opinion, that Catalonia, this little “fatherland”, finally became the “national” focal point.  In 1898 Spain lost its possessions in Cuba and the Philippines, which resulted in a crisis of confidence in Spain as a whole and which gave an impetus to political Catalanism.   The “Lliga Regionalista de Catalunya” was founded in 1901, and six years later entered into a coalition with other groups ranging from Carlists to Federalists, forming the “Solidaritat Catalana”.   With a programme based on Enric Prat de la Riba’s manifesto of 1906, “La nacionalitat catalane”, it gained control of the Generalitat.

At the beginning of the 20th century the four Catalan provinces joined together in the “Commonwealth of Cataluña” which, in1913, received limited autonomy from the Madrid government.   Hopes of more extensive autonomy in 1919 were dashed, however, leading to the establishment of radical groups like Acció Catalana and Estat Catalana, which were at some considerable remove from the more moderate Lliga.   In 1925 Miguel Primo de Rivera (1870-1930) who ruled in Spain from 1923 to 1930 as virtual dictator under the weak Alfonso XIII suppressed both the Commonwealth and Generalitat.   In1919 this Andalusian aristocrat had been appointed Captain General of Valencia, and in 1922 was active in Barcelona suppressing the unrest which was bubbling to the surface.   The following year he staged his coup d’état, dissolved the Cortes, and suspended the constitution.   As a result of his activity in Cataluña, the “Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya” was formed from Estat Catalana and other republican groups.  This left wing coalition won a sweeping victory in municipal elections in 1931, and following the proclamation of the Second Spanish Republic in the same year on the abdication of Alfonso, declared Cataluña to be an independent republic.   Under the leadership of Francesc Macià  a compromise was reached with the republican government in Madrid.   In September, 1932, Cataluña became an autonomous state within Spain with the historic name the “Generalitat de Catalunya.”    The accord between the two republics lasted only two years, and in 1934 the Generalitat, under the leadership of Lluís Companys, broke with the  central government and demanded further autonomy.   Two years later the Spanish Civil War broke out.   Cataluña sided with the Republican government in Madrid, and thus once again found itself on the losing side.   Lluís Companys declared Cataluña to be independent, but it was an empty gesture.    The Nationalists under General Franco did not look kindly on the region and adopted a hostile policy towards it.   Once again the Catalan language and culture faced repressive measures.   Companys and thousands of other Republicans sought refuge in France, but after the fall of that country in 1940, the Germans captured him and handed him back to their old ally General Franco.   He was tortured and shot by the Guardia Civil in a ditch at Montjuïc in Barcelona.   His last words as the shots rang out were “¡Per Catalunya!”

With the death of General Franco in 1975 and the accession of King Juan Carlos I, the movement for autonomy regained impetus.   The death of Alfonso XIII in 1941 had resulted in his son Don Juan, Conde de Barcelona, becoming rightful heir to the throne.   The Carlist line had become extinct in 1936 with the death of the Duque de San Jaime in Vienna, and whilst some Carlists still maintained an allegiance to Francis Xavier of Bourbon-Parma, the majority recognised that the direct line was at an end.   The Conde de Barcelona now received general acceptance.   Don Juan, however, was a prominent critic of General Franco and as a result in July, 1969, the Caudillo named Juan Carlos, Prince of Asturias, Don Juan’s son, as his heir.   Don Juan accepted this agreement.   The new king proved himself to be the model of a democratic constitutional monarch.  During the Franco regime, a Catalán government-in-exile had been maintained, with Josep Tarradellas at its head.   He returned to Spain in 1977 with the famous words:  "¡Ciutadans de Catalunya, ja sóc aquí!" ( "Citizens of Catalonia, I am here at last!"), and in September of that year, with the King’s approval,  limited autonomy was once again granted to the region.   This was followed in 1979 with the establishment of the Autonomous Community of Cataluña.  The following year Jordi Pujol, from the Convergéncia Democràtica de Catalunya, a conservative nationalist pparty, was elected President and remained in office for 23 years.   In 2006 Cataluña was granted “Nation” status by the government in Madrid, but four years later in 2010 Spain’s Constitutional Court ruled that whilst the Catalán people constituted a “nationality”, Cataluña itself was not a “nation”.   Despite this, the pro-independence parties (Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya; Unío Democràtica de Catalunya; Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya; Solidaritat Catalana) obtained 50.03% in the 2010 election.   There is, however, a considerable divergence of opinion within these parties, none of whom likes to be referred to as “nationalist”.  Having said that, an opinion poll in the same year showed that some 15% of the Partido Popular voters in Cataluña also supported the region’s independence.   The 2006 Statute of Autonomy (which, as we have seen, was later negated by the court) was opposed by both the right wing Partido Popular and the left wing Esquerra Repuiblicana de Catalunya; the former considered it as going too far, the latter as not going far enough.

The euro-zone debt crisis now raised its ugly head.   Put briefly, it is a multi-year debt crisis that has been taking place in the European Union since the end of 2009.    Spain, like Greece, Portugal, Cyprus and Ireland, found themselves unable to repay or refinance their government debt or to bail out over-indebted banks.   The detailed causes of the debt crisis varied, and are beyond the remit of this article.   Many Cataláns felt themselves frustrated at what they saw as central government financial mismanagement, whilst they were contributing so much to the Spanish economy.    On September 11th, 2012, between 600,000 (government figures) and 2 million (organisers’ figures) took part in a mass meeting in Barcelona calling for independence from Spain.   In September and October a number of local municipalities declared independence.   On September 11th the following year, the “Catalán Way” took place, consisting of a human chain 480 kilometres in length, calling for independence.  Accordingly, in 2013 the Generalitat passed a measure calling for a referendum on independence from Spain.   The independence referendum planned to take place in Scotland in 2014 galvanized such a call.   Artur Mas, leader of the “Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya” party, called for a non-binding referendum to be held on November 9th, 2014.   The Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, challenged this call, and the Constitutional Court considered the legality of such a vote.   Mas went ahead on the grounds that he was merely calling for an informal poll of Catalán opinion.   The result was that with more than one third of registered voters taking part, over 80% expressed a desire for independence.   The Madrid government remained adamant.   Mas formed the “Junts pel Si” (Together for Yes) alliance, and called regional elections in September 2015.   The alliance won 62 of the 135 seats in the Generalitat, and was joined by the Popular Unity (anti-austerity) party with 10 votes.   On November 9th, 2015, the Generalitat narrowly approved a measure seeking to implement a “peaceful disconnection from the Spanish State”.   Rajoy reiterated that such a move would be illegal.   The Popular Unity party now turned on Arturo Mas, and removed their support.   Negotiations between the various parties resulted and with hours to go before a further election had to be  called, on January 9th, 2016, a compromise was reached.   The Mayor of Girona, Carles Puigdemont, became Catalán President.  In March the following year Mas was found guilty of Contempt for the Spanish Constitution and barred from holding public office for  two years.   In defiance of such an example, Puigdemont announced in June 2017 that Cataluña would hold a binding referendum on independence on October 1st, 2017.   As the date approached the National Police and Guardia Civil seized nearly ten million ballot papers from a warehouse in Barcelona, and arrested over a dozen election officials.   The resulting protests on the streets caused the central government in Madrid to increase its control over the local police force, the “Mossos d'Esquadra” ( "Squad Lads"), which largely replaces the Guardia Civil of other regions of Spain. (The cost of maintaining the "Mossos d'Esquadra" is said to be to be approximately 720 million Euros, which is paid for by the Spanish government.)     The vote was held, but was marred by widespread violence, mainly occasioned by the police forces, the exception being the Mossos d’Esquadra, which stood largely aloof.   Election officials, however, stated that the turnout was around 42%, with 90% of those voting favouring independence.   Given the chaos, these figures have to be regarded at best as approximations.   Puigdemont, however, stated “On this day of hope and suffering, Calaluña’s citizens have earned the right to have an independent state in the form of a republic.”   Rajoy called the referendum “a mockery” of  democracy.   King Felipe VI made a public broadcast calling for national unity.   At the time of writing the outcome is unclear.   Given that history has a habit of repeating itself, it may be unclear for some time to come.   

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