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Catalonia - History

Catalonia FlagThe Catalans have always had their own language. It does not have its roots in Spanish, as does Portuguese or Galacian, which is spoken in northwestern Spain. But different from the Galacian and Basque language, Catalan has for centuries been a prestigious and cultural language. The oldest writings date back to the 12th Century. Since that date there have always been prominent authors in the Catalan language.

Far removed from the scene of the secular struggle with the Moor, and dwelling on the marge of the sea which was the principal commercial arena of the ancient and mediaeval world, the people of Catalonia had from a very remote period opportunities for development denied to the inhabitants of every other part of Spain. The Moors were expelled from Barcelona at the beginning of the ninth century. Catalonia had thus a start of more than four centuries over Seville, and of six over Malaga — to say nothing further of the incontestable advantages of her geographical position.

The Generalitat is the popular name for the "Deputació del General de Catalunya" which literally translates as the General Council of Catalonia. It is a political body that has been in existence since the Late Middle Ages and was essentially a governing structure under the Catalan Corts, or parliament. This parliamentary assembly representing the entire country had emerged from an agreement between the main political actors of the time. The arrangement is considered to be not only the first, but also one of the most democratic and pluralistic institutions in Europe.

The formation of the General Council was the result of a gradual historical process that spanned eighty years from the end of the 13th century to the late 14th century. In 1283, the Court of Barcelona, presided by King Peter the Great, formalised a deal-making system which prohibited the sovereign from promulgating constitutions or levying general taxes without the authorisation of the three estates—military, ecclesiastical and noble—in the Courts. At each session, parliamentary negotiations between the monarch and the representatives of the estates of society would conclude with the approval of new legislation on the administration of land, redress of grievances and compensatory donations to the monarch.

By the late Middle Ages, the kingdoms of Catalonia, Aragon, and Valencia had joined together in a federation, forging one of the most advanced constitutional systems of the time in Europe. After the union of the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile in 1479, the Spanish crown maintained a loose administrative hold over its component realms. Catalonia was the heart of the Kingdom of Aragon, which was united to the rest of Spain (Castile) by the marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile. Even though the couple "officially" ruled Spain "jointly," they were actually ruled separately by the two rulers and their respective staffs.

In 1593, the king unilaterally suspended an important part of the agreements made by the 1585 Cort, and from that moment on, a period of conflicts began, that were intermittent but increasingly serious, between the Catalan institutions holding to the agreed regime, and an internationally established monarchy with an imperial outlook, which not only nursed a tendency towards the exercise of absolute power and the equalising of the regimes of the different States of the Crown, but also continual and very serious military commitments on various fronts. As a consequence, the monarchs of the first half of the 17th century put intense pressure on the Generalitat, in a context of social crisis that would continue to deepen.

A Catalan Republic, also known as the Catalan State (Estat Català), has been proclaimed four times:

  1. 1641, by Pau Claris.
  2. 1873, by Baldomer Lostau as the "Catalan State"
  3. 1931, by Francesc Macià as the "Catalan Republic within the Iberian Federation"
  4. 1934, by Lluís Companys as the "Catalan State within the Spanish Federal Republic"

Of these four proclamations, the first (1641) was performed with the objective to establish the complete independence and others (1873, 1931 and 1934) to establish the sovereignty of Catalonia within an Iberian or Spanish Federal Republic. Although Madrid occasionally tried to assert more centralized control, in the case of Catalonia its efforts generally resulted in failure. Nonetheless, attempts by Catalans in the seventeenth century to declare their independence were likewise unsuccessful.

The Diputació had with France the Pact of Ceret on September 7, 1640, for which Catalonia was to receive military support, would separate from the Hispanic Monarchy and would be constituted as a free republic under the protection of the French king. Pau Claris convened the General Assembly of Arms, who was elected to the governing institution of the new situation, made official the commitments with France and the secession and issued public debt to finance the military expenses. The victorious advance of the Castilian troops by Cambrils and Tarragona caused that the Board yielded to the French pressures and proclaimed Luis XIII count of Barcelona 23 of January of 1641, three days before Batalla de Montjuïc, that stopped the attack on Barcelona.

Although the Péronne pact of 19 September 1641 respected constitutions and pactism, Abuses on the Catalan population and their institutions not only did not diminish, but they increased dramatically over the years of French rule, while war extended over the Catalan territories, until the weakness caused by the minority Luis XIV's age and the institutional split of the Provincial Council facilitated the successes of the Castilian offensive of 1651-1652, led by Joan Josep of Austria, who entered Barcelona. The war continued until the Treaty of the Pyrenees of 1659 sanctioned the annexation to France of Roussillon, Conflent, Vallespir and part of Cerdanya.

In the War of the Spanish Succession, Catalonia sided with the English against the Spanish crown, and the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 opened the way for the conquest of Catalonia by Spanish troops. In September 1714, after a long siege, Barcelona fell, and Catalonia's formal constitutional independence came to an end.

The Catalans held a special status within the Spanish kingdom. The Catalan nobility feared losing these privileges and fought on the side of the ruling Habsburgs. But it was not about independence. Nevertheless, the Catalans have since 1980 celebrated September 11 - the day the Catalans, in 1714, finally came under Bourbon rule - as their "National holiday". Whether the term nation ever applied to Catalonia is something many doubt.

During the latter half of the nineteenth century, Catalonia experienced a dramatic resurgence as the focal point of Spain's industrial revolution. There were also a cultural renaissance and a renewed emphasis on the Catalan language as the key to Catalan cultural distinctiveness. Catalan nationalism was put forward by the nascent Catalan bourgeoisie as a solution that coupled political and cultural autonomy with economic integration in the Spanish market. For a brief period during the 1930s, the freedom of the Second Republic gave the Catalans a taste of political autonomy, but the door was shut for forty years by the Franco dictatorship.

In 1936 George Orwell went to Spain to report on the Civil War and instead joined the fight against the Fascists. This famous account describes the war and Orwell’s experiences. When Orwell arrived in Barcelona, the Anarchists were still virtually in control of Catalonia. He joined a unit of the P.O.U.M. (Workers Party of Marxist Unification - a small group of anti-Stalinists).

In Homage to Catalonia (1938), Orwell wrote that in late 1936 "I had come to Spain with some notion of writing newspaper articles, but I had joined the militia almost immediately, because at that time and in that atmosphere it seemed the only conceivable thing to do. The Anarchists were still in virtual control of Catalonia and the revolution was still in full swing. To anyone who had been there since the beginning it probably seemed even in December or January that the revolutionary period was ending; but when one came straight from England the aspect of B arcelona was something startling and overwhelming. It was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle. Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags or with the red and black flag of the Anarchists... when I see an actual flesh-and-blood worker in conflict with his natural enemy, the policeman, I do not have to ask myself which side I am on."

In 1938 the outcome of the Spanish Civil War was becoming clear. On April 5 in the city of Burgos, General Franco signed a decree abolishing the Government of Catalonia and declared that “the state shall regain the powers of legislation and enforcement that correspond to it in the common-law territories and the services that were transferred to the region of Catalonia”. The military occupation of Catalonia was completed in early 1939. The Government of Catalonia was abolished, its assets were seized and the Provincial Councils were re-established, with the offices of the Barcelona Provincial Council set up in the Palace at Plaça Sant Jaume. Thus began a period of deprivation of democracy and Catalan national rights, which lasted until the death of the dictator on 20 November 1975.

The top officials of the Government of Catalonia and the Spanish Republic were forced into exile. President Lluís Companys took refuge in France, but when France was occupied by the Germans during World War II he was arrested by the Nazis and turned over to Franco’s police. The President of the Government was taken to Madrid and later to Barcelona. He was summarily court-martialled and executed by a firing squad at the Castle of Montjuïc on 15 October 1940.

Josep Irla, the President of the Parliament of Catalonia elected in 1938, temporarily assumed the post of President of the Government in exile. In 1945, he formed a government that consisted of well-known figures but was understandably inoperative. After Irla’s resignation in 1954, a group of former members of the Catalan Parliament met at the Spanish Embassy in Mexico, which was maintained by republican officials because the Mexican government had not recognised Franco’s regime. The group decided to maintain the continuity of the institution and elected Josep Tarradellas, who had been the First Minister and Minister of Finance in 1937, to the post of President of the Government of Catalonia. President Tarradellas, who lived in France, was recognised as the guardian of the legal continuity of the Government by Catalan political forces. During the final stages of Franco’s dictatorship, he established contact with the new leaders who had emerged inside Catalonia.

General Franco died on 20 November 1975 and Juan Carlos I was immediately crowned King of Spain. These events opened a process of transition from the dictatorship to the restoration of democratic institutions, including the Government of Catalonia, in an atmosphere characterised by exhaustion with Franco’s regime and demands for citizens’ rights.

The Assembly of Catalan Members of Parliament created a commission of experts that drafted a Statute of Autonomy. This “Commission of Twenty” met at the government-owned hotel in Sau and produced a text that was accepted by the Assembly of Members of Parliament on 16 December 1978, was discussed and approved by the constitutional commission of the Spanish Parliament on 13 August 1979, and was approved by referendum on 25 October of the same year. On 18 December 1979, the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia was sanctioned by King Juan Carlos I. The first autonomous elections were held on 20 March 1980. The Parliament convened on 10 April and elected Heribert Barrera as President of Parliament. Jordi Pujol, the leader of the political force that received the most votes, was elected as the 126th President in the history of the Government of Catalonia.

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Page last modified: 08-10-2017 18:30:03 ZULU