14 September 2006 Edition
Catalans celebrate national day
While generally overshadowed by events on the same date in the United States, for Catalans, 11 September is their national day and an opportunity to reassert their centuries old demand for independence.
Catalonia was an independent nation until it was invaded and subsequently occupied by Spanish troops in 1714 who promptly dismantled the Catalan government and banned the language. The date of the defeat has been marked as national day.
In 1932, following the election of the Popular Front republican government, Catalonia was granted a Statute of Autonomy, recovering a number of its national rights in a system not unlike Home Rule. This decision incensed right-wing sentiment in Spain however, which suspected that it was the first step to the break-up of the country, and was a factor in the fascist coup led by General Franco in 1937.
The Franco dictatorship was a brutal one for Catalans with mass executions and arrests following the entry of Franco's troops into the Catalan capital of Barcelona. Among those killed was the Catalonian President Luis Companys, the only head of state executed during the rise of fascism in Europe.
Today, Catalonia has a population of just over seven million and, like the Basque Country, is one of the most industrialised parts of Spain with an increasingly strong independence movement. The Generalitat, or Catalan government, holds exclusive jurisdiction in various matters of culture, environment, communications, transportation, commerce, public safety and local governments, but in education, health and justice, the region shares jurisdiction with the Spanish government, though it does have its own police force.
In June of this year, Catalans overwhelmingly approved a referendum to increase its autonomy, including formal recognition by Spain of Catalonia as a nation for the first time. Some Catalan nationalists opposed the referendum, saying it did not go far enough, while many Spaniards hoped these concessions would be enough to sate increasing demands for full independence.
This week too saw the first anniversary of the establishment of a Catalan group in Dublin to agitate for support for Catalan independence, whose website can be found at www.catalansadublin.com.