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18 May 2000 Edition

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Catalonia's fight for nationhood

On 6 May Catalan people commemorated a special date for them. They haven't forgotten or forgiven that in 1707 Spanish and French troops beat them in the battle of Almansa.

It was a great day. In the morning, more than 500 councillors from different cities, towns and villages around the country met in Valencia, despite the artificial division of Catalonia by the French and Spanish states. The elected representatives discussed common policies on issues like culture, language and the environment. Later, they signed a declaration committing themselves to cooperation on these issues, in effect, a declaration of national unity.

In the afternoon a demonstration took place in the streets of the Mediterranean city. More than 60,000 people who had come from various places around Catalonia marched. Behind a banner that read ``25 April - 11 September. The same story. Join together. Unity!''.

The slogan refers to the dates on which the cities of Valencia and Barcelona were conquered by the Spanish and the French, respectively, which meant the defeat of Catalonia. Those marchign want that independence back.

The final celebration had to be postponed because of a bomb scare. Although nobody claimed responsibility for it, everyone knew it was Spanish fascists.

All these things happened in one day in Valencia, a city most people don't know much about. Everyone knows the stereotypical image about Valencia, Benidorm, the Balearic Islands, Barcelona - sun, beaches, paella, oranges, the 1992 Olympics - Most of them think that Catalonia is another region of Spain and don't know that all these cities, towns and villages are part of the same separate nation.

Catalonia has a population of over 11 million people and most of them speak its own language, Catalan. Although it has its own autonomous regional government, it remains under Spanish control.

The past

To better understand the current situation, we should have a quick look at Catalonia's history, which has its origin in the medieval age, when the Catalan people expanded their control over the west of the Mediterranean Sea. At the time, Catalonia was an international power.

However, because of Spanish meddling, Catalonia lost out. In the 17th century, Catalonia suffered the consequences of the Thirty Year War and lost most of its northernmost territory, which has been under French control since.

Worse was to come. In the 18th century, it lost its political institutions as a result of a conflict over the succession to the throne of Castile and Catalonia-Aragon, which eventually led to a wider international conflict.

By the middle of the 18th century, the Generalitat and the Consell de Cent, the two main Catalan political institutions, had been abolished; the Catalan military forces were disarmed, disbanded or exiled; the leaders of the Catalan resistance were imprisoned or condemned to death and their castles destroyed; the University of Barcelona was abolished and the official language became Spanish instead of Catalan.

Obviously these measures did not result in the total disappearance of the Catalan language, which even then continued to serve as a vehicle for notable literary works. Likewise Catalonia, despite its official submission to the new Spanish monarch, had not entirely lost its national awareness.

On 6 October 1934, Lluís Companys, (president of a part of Catalonia) clashed with the central Spanish Government and proclaimed the Catalan State within the Spanish Federal Republic.

The movement was quashed by the Spanish army and the Government of Catalonia and many other citizens were imprisoned. After Spanish general elections in February 1936, which saw victory by a coalition of left-wing parties, the members of the Catalonian government were released from prison and the Generalitat resumed its functions.

General Franco's right-wing military uprising against the Republic began on 18 July 1936. This was the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. In Catalonia, the people and the police force directed by the Generalitat quickly put down the military revolt.

Towards the end of 1937, however, the Republican government in Madrid took away the powers that had been granted to Catalonia.

The defeat of the Republic in 1939 forced the Catalan government, the members of its parliament and thousands of citizens into exile. At the request of the authorities of the Franco regime in Madrid, President Lluís Companys was captured by agents of the German military police and handed over. Judged by a military court and sentenced to death, he was executed on 15 October 1940.

In 1975, when the Spanish dictator died, Catalans were hopeful of change, but the Spanish transition towards democracy was really disappointing. Those guilty of human right abuses were not tried; the police force only changed the colour of its uniform. Franco had decided that the new regime would be a monarchy and King Juan Carlos I was appointed by him as his successor.

Catalonia and the rest of the Iberian nations were divided into regions - autonomous communities. The 1978 Spanish constitution forbade the possibility of any change to the existing territorial division, while the Army reserved the right to intervene in the internal affairs of any region.

Today, the campaign for social and political freedom in Catalonia continues. New cultural and social organisations are flourishing and all are moving in the same direction: equality and freedom for this country.

An Phoblacht Magazine


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