A Little Catalonia History

After traveling to Bell Munt and hearing about the Spanish Civil War (1930’s), I decided to look a little more into it.

At the time, President Azaña ruled over Spain. He was democratically elected to rule and was of the Republican party (the Loyalists), which consisted of the working class, peasants, communists, and socialists. Franco, a fascist-leaning general in Morocco’s Spanish Army deemed the Nationalists, rose up against the Spanish government. They were supported by fascist Germany and Italy, while the Soviet Union and European Democracies supported the Loyalists.

Due to internal arguments within the Loyalist party between socialists, communists, and anarchists as well as other factors, the Nationalists won the war and overtook Spain. The government became a dictatorship and Franco became the longest ruling dictator in European history. Spain was expected to help in the Second World War on the side of Germany since Germany had contributed to Spain’s win in 1939.

However, Spain was in no state to provide weapons nor people. They did provide a small volunteer army called La División Azul, however. To be frank, Franco wasn’t a warm and fuzzy type of person. In order to keep his hold on Spain, he was ruthless with his political enemies or potential enemies. While his policies were said to increase the economic development in Spain post WWII, he implemented heavy prison sentences and concentration camps immediately following the end of the Spanish civil war. It was a time of heavy political oppression. Any form of art or cultural expression was censored by the government and suppressed if it was not considered “Spanish.” The Catalan language was officially forbidden and any writing of it was illegal. While many still spoke the language and studied it in secret, it wasn’t until 1960 when Catalan could be found in writing, even though it was still officially illegal until 1975.

The government also had a strong affiliation with the Catholic Church, so contraceptives, abortion and divorce were forbidden. For a period of time, working was banned on Sundays so if work needed to be done on a farm, for example, it was done in secret. Up until the 1970’s women could not even have a bank account without a co-sign from a father or husband.

After Franco’s rule, Spain started a transition to a democracy, through a constitutional monarchy. Now, the government is simultaneously trying to put that time of oppression behind them while also attempting to rectify what little they can. The government provides funds to families of the Republican party who were forced into exile. In the future, they hope to transform the Valley of the Fallen, Franco’s concentration camps, into a place of remembrance and learning, similar to Auschwitz. Interesting Article on Franco

Now on to Catalonia. I recently downloaded a book called, What’s up with Catalonia? This book consists of essays from political figures, translated into English, geared toward English speakers. This book obviously supports Catalonian independence and while it claims its purpose is more informative for those living outside Catalonia rather than a persuasive call to action type book, it doesn’t really show both sides of the story. With that in mind, it is still a very interesting collection of essays.

The opening essay is written by the President of Catalonia, Artur Mas i Gavarró. It describes in a very politically correct manner why Catalonia seeks independence. Like I have heard from many Catalonians, this desire is mostly based on money. Essentially, Catalonia is contributing more to the economy via taxes than it is receiving in benefits. During a time of a huge recession in Spain with unemployment higher than it has been in years, this is particularly concerning. “(We are) a Catalonia that suffers, like the rest of the countries in Europe, the harsh consequences of the financial crisis, that suffers the consequences of having to drastically reduce its public spending to meet the deficit objectives that are disproportionately, unjustly, and disloyally imposed by Spain, and that suffers the consequences of having to shoulder the return of a debt of massive dimensions” (28, What’s up with Catalonia?). They seek to be separated from the “Spanish State” and want to live by their own means, have their own tools as a separate country would, and have the ability to decide their future.

The next essay is written by a University Professor who is also the president of the Catalan National Assembly. She describes the year leading up to Catalonian’s National Day 2012. On September 11, 2012, the ANC, the Catalan National Assembly, organized a peaceful, unified, and democratic march in Barcelona in support of independence. It consisted of a fifth of the population of Catalonia (1.5 million people). Many consider this march to be a historical turn of events, the largest protest in Barcelona’s history, and a great decider in what was the come next for Catalonia. Before I go any further, it is interesting to point out that September 11th, the National Day for Catalans, is actually the day of their defeat. 300 years previous, Catalonia’s independence was taken away in the War of the Spanish Succession.  September 11th marks a day when Catalonians can show their pride and strong desire to become independent, despite the fact that it has been hundreds of years since liberty.

At the end of the march, the ANC had organized the President of the Parliament to meet with them to discuss a referendum. Within two days, they met with the President and discussed the future of Catalonia, including a long disputed fiscal pact, which would provide Catalonia with more funds. The following week President of the Spanish government refused to negotiate a fiscal pact in Catalonia’s favor, leading to the election that commenced on November 25th.

Originally, I was a little confused on who was being elected. I discovered that Atar Mas whose term was between 2011-2015, supported the election (or re-election of himself) in order to show the rest of Spain that the majority of Catalonians supported independence. Now is an exciting time in Catalonia as many see this as a chance to “recover the freedom that we lost almost 300 years ago” (46, What’s up with Catalonia?). “The Spanish Sate has said that we cannot hold a referendum, that we cannot decide our own future because it is illegal, because the Spanish laws don’t allow it. Indeed, many of these Spanish laws, the Constitution included, were made expressly so that catalans could not decide our own future. They were created to suppress the minority” (46-47, What’s up with Catalonia?). They feel as if they are being suppressed, initially economically, which has in turn, suppressed their culture, freedom, and public service to their people.  They want the laws to change in order to become an independent state.

I still don’t necessarily have a stance one way or the other on Catalonian independence. It’s not that I am indifferent, I simply do not think I can separate the extremely biased and exaggerated viewpoints from those that are actually true. So I am reading everything with a grain of salt and attempting to make sense of it little by little. Even though Catalonia claims that their desire to become independent has been strong and steadfast since they were striped of their liberty 300 years ago, I believe that the financial crisis has really put into perspective for the Catalonians what independence could mean for them economically. It is as if independence is a distraction about the current economic crisis and I think people mistakenly believe that independence will quickly solve all their problems. I do not know who is correct and what is best for the country, but I will continue to read about it. It takes a lot to run a separate country, even if they have been their own culture for a number of years.  One has to also consider international relations based on their relationship with the EU. Many of these details within the EU I do not understand but it is definitely something to consider and read up on. I think another problem they are having right now it unity amongst themselves. While they all agree on independence, they bitterly disagree on who and how they should run the country. Therefore, independence may be farther off than the march on September 11th, 2012 suggested but, in reality, I have no idea.

Bottom line: While Catalonia has always had its own culture, the financial crisis has demonstrated that Catalonians pay the Spanish State much more in taxes than it receives in government services. The extent of which may be exaggerated, however, I do not know the official numbers.
Catalonia -Article on why Catalonia should stay a part of Spain. Since I cited a source about why Catalonia should be independent, here’s another article on why they should stay a part of Spain.

Let’s take a step back. I keep referring to September 11th, the Day of Catalonia. One of my English students explained a little bit of the history. Present Spain was split up a little differently back in the day. In the latter part of the 15th century, the region was divided into the Crown of Aragon and the Crown of Castille. The Crown of Aragon consisted of eastern Spain (including Catalonia), the bottom part of France, Italy, and some islands in the Mediterranean. These components were very autonomous under the King and acted almost independently. The Crown of Castille included the rest of current Spain.

In 1469, the King of Aragon married the Queen of Castille resulting in one large region, the Kingdom of Spain. While the King and Queen were happy enough to be united, the two separate territories desired to remain separate. As a pair, they went on to conquer the Canary Islands and the Empire of Granada. The year was 1492 and if that year brings you back to lower school days, it should (In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue). During this time, the Spanish Inquisition was in full gear, forcing Jews and Muslims to convert to Catholicism. The Kingdom of Spain was quite enormous and as they were destined to be, became a world power through trade and wealth and had their fair share in European colonialism.

So, many other things happened during the next few hundred years that I’m not going to go into so we’ll skip over to the first part of the 18th century.

Charles II ruled over the Spanish Empire until 1700. It was the largest European empire at the time stretching over present Spain, East Indies, and parts of the Americas. He was not fortunate enough to bear a son, therefore, war broke out over who was to rule over this extensive empire. The empire was to be ruled by the France Bourbons or Austrian Habsburgs and after a decade, they ended up splitting up the empire amongst themselves. Let’s bring our focus back to Catalonia.  Catalonian troops were fighting against the French but they were defeated in 1714. This day marks the end of Catalonia’s autonomous rule and since then, Catalonia has desired to be independent yet again.  Therefore, while marking a day of defeat as the “National Day of Catalonia” seems ironic, in their eyes it shows their persistent longing to be once again independent. In many ways, they have reason to because during Franco’s rule, their Catalonian culture was severely oppressed and currently, they claim they are suffering unjustly as a result of the financial crisis.

I am attempting to make sense of this but I may get some of it wrong so if you would like to research it for yourself: Crown of AragonKingdom of SpainNational Day of CataloniaCharles II of SpainCrown of Castille. Right now I can sense disappointment from my college professors since all of my sources are from wikipedia and therefore unreliable. I apologize so I’ll go ahead and make a disclaimer: all of this may not be true.

Faith Lindsay is currently participating in the CE Au Pair in Spain program.

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