Want the short version? Check out this fantastic 2 minute video created by a native, pro-independence Catalan, Maria Padró Casas (@aixovar)
Catalonia has a rich and extensive history as an independent region. To discover it’s origin we must start in 711 when much of the Iberian Peninsula was conquered by the Muslim empire and became known as al Andalus. Over the next four centuries the counties on the border of al Andalus and the Carolingian Empire grew and formed into their own economic and religious community.
The nobleman Count Wilfred the Hairy (Guifré el Pilós) is considered the founder of Catalonia as he is credited with establishing an independent territory with Barcelona as its capital in the 10th century. Legend has it that the creation of the Senyera (Catalan flag with 4 red bars on a golden background) came about when the son of Charlemagne dipped his fingers in the wound of the dying Wilfred the Hairy and wiped them across the golden Wilfred’s golden shield. The “Four Bars” as it’s known became the national flag in the 11th Century soon after, in the 12th Century, the Catalan crown emerged simultaneously with the use of Catalan as a written language.
In the 12th century the independent Catalonia came under the same rule as the Kingdom of Aragon. The marriage of King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile and the consolidation of their realms in the 15th century marks Catalonia’s inclusion as a part of Spain. The monarchs were sworn to respect the rules, institutions and constitutions of Castile and the territories in the Crown of Aragon.
The next few centuries saw rising tensions and increased attempts to integrate Catalonia into the Spanish state. The independent territory became angry about the treatment and in 1640 Catalan peasants were forced to host the Spanish King Philip IV’s army who were fighting the French. This led to a rebellion known as the War of the Reapers (Guerra dels Segadors.) A Catalan Republic was briefly established under the protection of France but was ended with the 1659 Treaty of the Pyrenees between France and Spain when it was returned to the Spanish King and the territory Rosselló and part of Cerdanya were given to the French King Louis XIV.
Conflicts in the region continue with the War of Spanish Succession. The Spanish King Charles dieD in 1700 without any children and he choses Philip V (Felipe V) of the French House of Bourbon as the heir to the throne. Allied with Austria, England and Holland the Catalans oppose Philip the V and plot against him. By 1714 Catalonia is alone in the fight and falls on September 11th (now Catalonia’s National Day) after a brutal 14 month siege of Barcelona. This leads to a sweeping repression including the abolition of the Catalan government and self-rule as well as restrictions on the use the the Catalan language.
Post 1714 the Catalan society experienced great economic growth with the beginning of open commerce with the Americas as well as industrialization.The continued effort to enforce Spanish law, language and culture on the territory resulted in a Catalan Renaissance (Renaixença) in the 19th Century. This was the era of Joan Maragall, the first Modern Catalan poet, the great Antoni Gaudí among many other now famous Catalan artists, authors and architects. The Catalan Renaissance was marked by a push for a more modern society, a stronger Catalan identity as well as political autonomy.
It was in beginning of the 20th century when a certain degree of autonomy was finally restored and in 1914 Enric Prat de la Riba established the Mancomunitat which united the Catalan Provinces (Barcelona, Girona, Lleida and Tarragona.) This government institution was responsible for managing education,public health, transportation, communication and culture. This led to a push for political autonomy and the rise of independence supporters along with the creation of the Catalan State (Estat Català) organization founded by politician Francesc Macià which sought to create an independent Catalan Republic. Fearing the growing Catalan Nationalism and as a response to violence in the region the Catalonia’s Capitan General, Miguel Primo de Rivera established a dictatorship with the support of the Spanish crown. The Mancomunitat was dissolved and symbols of the Catalan identity such as the national hymn (Els Segadors), the official flag (La Senyera) were persecuted. The Catalan political parties and even the public use of Catalan were declared illegal. This dictatorship only deepened the divide between the Spanish state and the Catalans.
Then in 1930 after the fall of Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship the leftist Spanish, Gallician and Catalan Republican parties signed the Sant Sebastian Pact. Though the pact’s main mission was to establish a republic and overthrow the monarchy it allowed for, when possible, the Spanish state to be constructed so that Catalonia could have political autonomy.
In April of 1931 municipal elections throughout Spain saw landslide Republican victories and the Second Spanish Republic was proclaimed sending King Alfonso XIII into exile. Francesc Macià, leader of the leftist Republican party Esquerra Republicana, won the Catalan elections and declared the creation of a new Catalan Republic and asked for the support of the rest of Spain. This was short-lived as Macia was pressured by the newly formed Second Spanish Republic into accepting instead the creation of an autonomous regional government called the Generalitat de Catalunya, which is the governing body still in existence today.
On July 17th, 1936 General Francisco Franco led a coup d’etat to seize control of Spain leading to the start of the brutal Spanish Civil War. Catalonia was a strong hold for the resistance and along with the other Republicans fought to restore the Second Spanish Republic. The war ended with Franco’s victory in 1939 and was followed by a long, oppressive and fascist dictatorship. Catalonia was severely punished; the president of the Generalitat Lluís Companys was executed by firing squad, the Catalan government and its autonomy were abolished and all symbols of the Catalan identity were forbidden including the use of the Catalan language, and 200,000 Catalans were forced into exile.
By the 1970s students and workers were calling for democracy and the anti-Franco Catalan Assembly (Assemblea de Catalunya) was created but the dictatorship lasted until Franco’s death in 1975. The period of “democratic transition” that followed resulted in a new democratic Constitution for Spain in 1978 which came to include the Statute of Autonomy for Catalonia in 1979.
In 2006 the statute is reformed after being approved by the Catalan and Spanish governments. The revised Statute of Autonomy gives the Catalan government more control and financial autonomy and refers to Catalonia as a “Nation” in the preamble. Then in 2010 the Spanish constitutional court removed some of the powers held by the Catalan government and also cut the reference to Catalonia as a “Nation.” This led to resentment and an increase in calls for independence among Catalans which was amplified due to the financial crisis.
In 2012 the newly elected conservative Catalan President Artur Mas attempts to negotiate a new financial pact with Spain to no avail. That same year a massive independence rally was held on Catalonia’s National Day with over 1.5 million Catalans taking to the streets to peacefully protest. The next year the Catalan government still let by Mas tried to negotiate with Spain to find a way to legally hold an independence vote and they are repeatedly declined.
This leads to the planning of a consultation vote to poll the population in 2014 which was declared unconstitutional by the Spanish government but is still held. The result was 81% in favor of independence though only 42% of the population participated in the vote.
The Catalan population has continued pressing for independence and have voted a majority of pro-independence politicians into the parliament. The current government led by President Carles Puigdemont, Vice President Oriol Junqueras and Parlimentary President Carme Forcadell led a successful vote on the Law of Transitory Legality which set in place the legal guidelines for a binding independence vote and depending on the result, an independent Catalan State. The referendum is set to take place on October 1st, 2017.