Catalonia Then and Now

October 2, 2017

By The Grouse Beater


“In Spain, the dead are more alive than the living”, Frederico Garcia Lorca – poet.

I’ve lost count of the number of visits made to Spain, to all points of that vast multifarious, humble, exotic land, but not the memorable journey across it by car north to south across the great Plain at 120 degrees in the shade in an open topped car. They were all work related but also a time of learning and relaxation. Only on one occasion was it unpleasant, cheated out of apartment rent given a mosquito infested room with no air conditioning by a snivelling bankrupt English estate agent.

Spain is a great land. But it was never one nation. Anybody going to Spain for a holiday to spend all of it on a beach or the local bar might as well save themselves the trouble and visit a pub in Blackpool instead. Spain is the land of the Moor, the Roman, the Greek, the Jew, and great Spanish painters. Forget paella and sangria, immerse yourself in its history.

One of the ‘peaceful’ images from the Catalonian Referendum, 01 October 2017

What is Catalonia today?

The tourist guides tells us Catalonia’s traditional agriculture was centred on the production of wine, almonds, and olive oil for export, as well as rice, potatoes, and corn (maize) as staples. Slightly more than one-third of Catalonia remains under cultivation, but olives and grapes are being supplanted by fruits and vegetables. The raising of pigs and cows is the dominant agricultural activity.

The main reason Spain is doing all it can to stop Catalonia moving from an autonomous state to one full independent is simple – like Scotland is to the UK, Catalonia is to the rest of Spain, a wealthy region. It is the richest and most highly industrialized part of Spain. Today Catalan boasts metalworking, food-processing, pharmaceutical, and chemical industries. Textile, papermaking and graphic arts, chemicals, metalworking industries are mainly concentrated in Barcelona.

One of Barcelona’s plants produces electric cars for Nissan. Spain also builds Seat cars and trucks for VW. Pegaso sports cars was once a greater threat to Ferrari than Jaguar cars. Fuel and petroleum products has led to a huge expansion of Tarragona’s petroleum refineries. And as any visitor knows tourism is paramount.

Catalonia banned bull fighting, but the highest court in the land overruled the ban in 2010 saying the autonomous region could not interfere with national heritage.


Catherine of Aragon

Some ancient history

Spain was not always Spain but a group of principalities once referred to as the Iberian Peninsula, self-sufficient states, factions often in contention with each other. Catalonia was formerly a principality of the Crown of Aragon. We learned a little of it at school.

Our student days remind us of Shakespeare’s Prince of Aragon in The Merchant of Venice, the Prince suitor to Portia. Catherine of Aragon had the misfortune to end up as the first abandoned wife of Henry the VIII, luckily the one who didn’t get her head chopped off. She gave birth to his heir, Mary.

What we were not told, most likely, was that from the 17th century Catalonia was the centre of a separatist movement that sometimes dominated Spanish affairs as it has done in the 20th and 21st century.

So, it’s fair to say Catalonia has had a rough time when it comes to being invaded and dominated: it was one of the first Roman possessions in Spain; occupied during the 5th century by the Goths; taken by the Moors in 712, and at the end of the 8th century by Charlemagne who incorporated it into his realm as the Spanish March, ruled by a count but not for long and soon rejected. For the serious tourist of history Spain is a paradise.

A long separatist history

Once Isabella of Castile (1469) brought about the unification of Spain, Catalonia became of secondary importance in Spanish affairs. It tended to be seen as a troublesome region, rather like England’s territorial view of Scotland. Though it retained its autonomy – as now –  and Assembly, (Generalitat) by the 17th century its conflict of interest with Castile, along with the decline of the Spanish monarchy, led to the first of a series of Catalan separatist movements. Yes, like Scotland, it’s been a 300 year old struggle.

In 1640 Catalonia revolted against Spain and placed itself under the protection of Louise XIII of France, a revolt quelled in the 1650s. In the War of the Spanish Succession Catalonia declared its support for the archduke Charles and resisted the accession of the Bourbon Dynasty, but in 1714 it was completely subjugated by the forces of the Bourbon Philip V who abolished the Catalan constitution and autonomy. Back to square one.

The pace quickens

The resurgence for nationhood really began in the 1850s. Serious efforts were made to revive Catalan as a living language with its own press and theatre – there’s that cultural aspect again that England’s unionists detest whenever Scots raise the same issues – a movement known as the Rebirth. Once the Catholic church lent its support to full autonomy the war of attrition began in earnest.


Scots and Irish volunteers who fought (and died) with the International Brigade against Franco

The Republic arises

In 1931 the then leader of a socialist-leaning Catalan proclaimed it a Republic. A compromise was worked out with the central government, and in September 1932 the statute of autonomy for Catalonia became law. In 1936 Spain began a genocidal civil war to reclaim Catalonia. The far-right Nationalists’ victory in 1939 meant the loss of autonomy by the hand of dictator General Francisco Franco’s government who put into force a draconian repressive policy toward Catalan’s socialist nationalism.

The struggle to reinstate full independence by Catalonia and Scotland has similar parallels with one inspiring the other, even after defeat.

In Catalonia’s previous Referendum over 80% expressed the desire for full independence, 45% in Scotland, but with many No voters demanding greater powers for Scotland. They didn’t get them, thus both Yes and No voters were losers.


Picasso’s masterpiece – ‘Guernica’

To read and to see

Those keen to know of Catalonia’s 20th century history should read Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, an account of all the betrayals, particularly by the communists, handing that troubled land to Franco’s fascists. Orwell sustained a bullet wound to his throat and was brought back to England. Over 500 Scots sacrificed their lives in Spain fighting Franco.

If not already familiar with the image and its powerful meaning, readers should try to see Picasso’s Guernica and stand before it in silence to take in all its meaning. You could write the rest of Catalonian history up to and including Franco’s regime as a series of take-overs followed by renewed rebellion for self-governance.

The pact to forget

The Pacto del Olivida was the commitment imposed on Catalonia by the Spanish elite after the fall of Franco. It was an attempt to throw a heavy blanket over civic unrest brought about by the violence of Franco’s fascist troops and his supporters, the intention being Catalonians should concentrate on being good peaceful citizens. (It included assassination campaigns of ETA, the Basque separatists of northern Spain and south western France.) We can see the result of that policy today.

How can Catalonia forget its past, the many conflicts, the very thing that propels its desire for a better future? Memory  is part and parcel of a nation’s culture. We in Scotland are forever told by unionists to forget out past. We are derided as claymore and kilt fanatics.

Looking both ways at once

How do you suppress spoken history of the past, from person to person, or history books written about the immediate past? You cannot contain remembrance of victims in a conflict to strict ceremonial days and ask for forgetfulness at the same time.

As with Scotland’s relationship with England, I argue confronting the past by all means possible is the only rationale, ethical, politically defensible process that aids movement towards full democratisation.

The only reason Scotland is where it is today with an impoverished Parliament of severely restricted powers is precisely because we are aware of the injustices economically and socially of our recent past, from Thatcher, to the 40% minimum vote of 1979 onwards. A pact to forget is a tactic to quell rebellion.

Cheated of greater powers when Scotland voted No in 2014 is yet another reason why forgetting the past is a colonial joke. The Spanish call it Encarnación. How can the Spanish forget the crimes of the Civil War? It is etched in the memories of an entire generation, some still keen on Franco’s authoritarian rule.

Taken to its logical extent, should we forget the Nuremberg Trials and the verdicts thereafter? To do that levels the victors with the defeated in the war against Nazism, the Nazis who, incidentally were allies of Franco.

Catalonia has been negotiating a path to independence for almost a decade. It has lost all patience and after the Spanish government’ s brutal reaction we can be certain it has lost tolerance!503Repression is repression

Scenes of Guardia Civil sent into Catalonia to beat up voters in the Catalan referendum must fill decent people with abhorrence. Exercising democracy in a vote has always been a threat to authoritarian administrations.

The brutal creed of Franco has never quite disappeared from parts of Spain, mostly among the elderly who benefitted from his rule in areas where socialism is akin to leprosy. What the Spanish government is doing now to frustrate the Catalonian referendum is repression, there is no other description of their actions.

The diversions begin

The right-wing of Britain and Spain is already hard at work trying to focus attention on the Catalonian Referendum as illegal. In fact, to my certain knowledge it is not. Only a declaration of UDI is illegal under the shared constitution. What the right-wing want us not to discuss is their other handiwork, the acts of repression:

  1. The Spanish cabinet has taken control of the payment of Catalonia’s creditors to prevent any expenditure on the Referendum vote.
  2. The Spanish Military Police (Guardia Civil) has closed down websites that provide information and commentary on the Referendum.
  3. Spanish judges have ordered the main telecommunication companies to prevent access to the Referendum website – and they complied.
  4. The Guardia Civil has raided printers and distributors in the greater Barcelona region and confiscated posters and leaflets.
  5. The Guardian Civil has served injunction papers against all pro-independence newspapers and web-based news office to block mention of the Referendum.
  6. The Spanish Post Office has opened ‘suspicious’ mail to check for Referendum material.
  7. Meetings in public places have been banned and some places raided.
  8. The Guardia Civil has inflicted sever violence against peaceful voters of all ages.
  9. Over three hundred voters have been admitted to hospital with severe wounds.
  10. At least 12 Catalan officials have been arrested – more by the time this is published – including the chief aide to Catalonia’s deputy prime minister, Josep Maria Jove.

Contradiction fly everywhere

There is a glaring flaw emanating from the mouths of those who argue Catalonians are flouting Spanish law. They never know where to draw the line. If beating up peaceful voters is lawful in their bleary eyes, then so must be shooting them dead. That was Franco’s creed.

The Spanish Government demonstrates how afraid it is of losing Catalonia. Let no one claim the UK Government is unafraid of losing Scotland.

You can follow  Grouse Beater on twitter at @Grouse_Beater       or at the webpage Grouse Beater

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *