Recently I interviewed a lady from Catalonia who I will keep anonymous originally from Catalonia. I would like to share the interview and what she had to say. We will call her Cat.
Why does Catalonia want independence?
I don’t want to bore you with too many historical details, but it is important to see that Catalonia has always had a unique culture and its dreams of independence from Spain keep recurring throughout its history. Up to now, they have always been squelched by military force.
In the centuries before Spain’s unification under Ferdinand and Isabella, most of Spain was under Muslim domain. However, the Frankish kingdom took over large parts of what is now Catalonia (Barcelona in 810) and this territory was a buffer zone between Christian and Muslims known as Marca Hispanica. Early on, Catalonia’s reality was different from that of the rest of the Iberian peninsula (Spain did not exist yet).
At some point, the count of Barcelona (lord of most of Catalan territories) married the princess of Aragon, and the two territories merged under one sovereign. This was a partnership of equals. Catalonia was allowed great autonomy in political, economic and cultural areas. In fact, at this time, the Catalan Corts were established, one of the first parliaments in all of Europe. It was a successful union between two territories that respected each other’s identity.
With the marriage of Isabella (queen of Castile) and Ferdinand (King of Aragon) the two kingdoms united and included what was today most of Spain (except small territories in the north and of course, Al-Andalus, the Muslim territory in the South). Both kingdoms were ruled independently of each other, in fact Catalonia didn’t benefit from the bounty of the Spanish colonization of America, because this was a monopoly of the Kingdom of Castile.
It is important to realize that as long as Catalonia’s culture and autonomy was respected, Catalonia was a willing partner in this union. Everything changed with the coming of the current monarchy to power (the Borbones). The relationship with this monarchy has always been tense, for example the Reapers War between Catalonia and Spain (the anthem of Catalonia “Els Segadors” commemorates it) happened under Felipe IV. However, the first king to try to culturally unify all of Spain by imposing the Spanish language on all the territory and retailing their local privileges was Felipe V, which is ironic because the current king, Felipe VI, clearly showed in his very short speech after the police beatings that he wants to follow his namesake’s strategy. An aside – all he did was scold the Catalan government, praised the police actions as “proportional” and did not say one word of comfort to the almost 900 people that were hurt by such brutal attacks. This is unforgivable – a king is supposed to be a representative and a mediator between all of his people, but in this case, he took political sides.
Fast forward to the 1900s, Catalonia has lived with more or less autonomy within Spain, depending on the government in power. Then in 1939, the fascist general Francisco Franco won the Spanish Civil war that started with his own coup-d’état. He brutally repressed all that opposed him, and Catalonia was the last region that stood up to him. His systematic repression of everything Catalan was so successful that several generations (those born in 1930s to early 1960s) can’t comfortably write Catalan because they were never taught to do so. I was born in 1969 and feel much more comfortable writing in Spanish than Catalan.
So, this is not a new issue. But how did we get to the point that we are now and why are we again loudly asking for independence? (this desire is always there, but more or less latent depending on the circumstances). It basically has to do with the arrival to power of the Popular Party (PP), a conservative party whose founders had Franco connections. (An aside: Catalans have nothing against conservatism- Puigdemont party is the Catalan conservative option). After several years in power under President Aznar, the opposition party (left wing PSOE) started gaining seats in the Spanish Parliament. The current president, Mariano Rajoy, opted for promoting hate against Catalonia as a strategy to remain in power. He chased popular support by promoting the elimination of some articles in the Catalan Estatut (Catalan constitution) and increased the dislike towards Catalonia in Spain. In fact in 2010, the Constitutional Court of Spain, headed by a PP supporter, chopped some additional sections of the Catalan law which had been previously approved by the Spanish parliament. Interestingly, some regions (the Basque country) were allowed to keep similar sections, so this move by the court was directed exclusively towards diminishing Catalonia’s autonomy. At this point, 2010, is when the independence movement (remember always more or less latent) started gaining momentum again. The Catalan government has repeatedly requested meeting with Rajoy to readdress this inequality. Rajoy has repeatedly ignored them– he’s known for his “do-nothing policy”. His continued opposition to Catalonia has gained him the support of the most extreme of right-wing activists, fascists, which is why so many Nazi salutes have been seen in the demonstrations for the pro-unity side. Don’t be fooled – they want unity with a subjugated Catalonia, not with an equal partner. Ironically, most Catalans would have been happy to stay within Spain in a more federalist type of relationship; but the inflexibility of the government and the complicity of the court system have only left an alternative: independence. Rajoy created this mess and he’s accountable for it.
Do you think Spain will squash this with violence?
I think their actions on October 1st, show they are more than willing to do so. Historically, they have always acted with violence. But fortunately we live in a world of instant news, and given the reaction to the violence everyone saw, I think Spain will have to be more careful on how to apply its force. So far they are directing their repression to targeted Catalan leaders, threatening them with prison. The problem will be if they physically try to arrest them, and run into large amounts of people trying to protect their leaders. Next week should be very interesting.
Has Spain always dealt with people like this?
No – in my first answer it is clear that Catalonia has been a willing partner when the other side has recognized its identity and has allowed a certain level of self-rule. However, authoritarian figures, be it kings or certain political parties, have traditionally opted for inciting hatred towards Catalonia, usually to hide other problems and gain support. The current PP government has more cases of corruption than any other government since the advent of democracy in 1976. If people focus their attention on the “Catalan problem”, less attention is being focused on the government’s corruption and inefficiency. To finish I’d like to add that in my personal opinion, the Catalan independence issue will never go away. Catalonia is a nation (a group of people who share a common culture), a country (a nation with well defined borders) and a state (a ruling body, the Generalitat). Catalonia is a nation state that has all the prerequisites to be an independent one, and as long as another state (Spain) tries to suppress its identity, the Catalan nation will rise in protest again and again. The only solutions are a federal union or outright independence. The former requires two willing participants, the latter doesn’t. We are being forced to opt for the second.
In discussing this issue with other Catalan people, the issues they face now are the leftovers of the Franco regime and the Spanish government’s hatred of Catalonia. Catalonia has a different language and culture than Spain which in itself makes it a different country. Also, 20% of Spain’s tax revenues come from the Catalan people. The spanish government would suffer greatly from these revenues being removed and they are already in an economic recession. Spain is on the verge of becoming a third world country due to its policies.
Here is yet another Catalan sharing some of the history of Spain:
“In Castile, since then, the king commanded and the subjects were forced to obey him. You just have to remember the well known: “The King is the law.” In Catalonia, the king was supervised by the Cortes and the president of the Generalitat directed the policy. Catalonia already had a flag in 1050 while Spain did not implement it until 1785. The first Catalan legislative parliaments ran from 1192, while Spain was in 1834. The Catalan Constitution was approved in 1283 while the one in Spain in 1812. The presidency of the Generalitat was instituted in 1359. ”
The current strategy of the Spanish government might as well come directly from Hitler himself and the Nazis. The police’s brutality was much like the physical force used by the Nazi brownshirts previous to the Hitler regime. Though Spain claims to be a democracy, Rajoy rules with an iron fist and declared the Catalan referendum illegal. However, under a true democracy, the right of the people to voice their opinion through casting a ballot would not be illegal.
Many claim that only 40% of Catalans want independence. If this were the case, a referendum allowing this choice would have been an intelligent option by Spain because the vote would not have passed. By deploying police, Rajoy used a Third Reich technique to instill fear into the people of Catalonia. However, this did not work on them as their desire to choose was much greater than their fear of the Cuerpo Nacional de Policía who dressed in riot gear attacked women and the elderly in force.
Another quote from a friend from Catalonia goes as follows:
“Prior to events on the 1st, academics, lawyers, MPs, and Lords were already contacting the Spanish authorities to express disgust at the denial of civil liberties in Catalonia. Arresting officials, raiding ministries, taking away IT equipment, closing websites, making threats, running a negative propaganda machine about the 15 000 strong state-sponsored occupying thug force. “
The behavior of the authorities in Spain has shown the totalitarian nature of the governing body and must be dealt with by the EU and the world. Recently, the regime has ordered arrest warrants for sedition for the Catalan governing body, including the President, Vice President and mayors of cities in Catalonia. This is also a tactic of the Third Reich, hoping to instill fear in the masses.
The people of Catalonia only wish to get away from the barbaric practices of the leftover Franco reign of power. Another quote from a person born in Catalonia: