I should begin by making it clear that to my knowledge, Catalonia has never been a sovereign state, though until 1714, the region enjoyed a very high degree of autonomy, see the Catalan constitutions.
I am not writing this as an expression of support to Catalonian secession. With few exceptions, I find nationalism distasteful. Bullying, however, I find even more distasteful.
There are a few aspects of the conflict I would like to highlight:
- Most importantly there is the unresolved matter of the Franco era.
- Next there is the matter of the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia of 2006 (2010)
- Finally there is the issue of the methods the Spanish authorities use to this very day to bring the region to heal.
The Spanish Civil War was triggered by a right-wing coup against the democratically established Republic. For centuries an arrogant aristocracy, supported by the clergy, had been living off the fat of the land – other people’s lands, that is – doing little if anything to develop anything in Spain other than its own wealth and status. When the Civil War broke out, there had been an attempt to develop agriculture and industry since the mid-nineteenth century, but the politically primitive state (mainly the crown and the succession of generals on which it leaned) virtually asphyxiated progress. The last of the generals before the establishment of the republic was Primo de Rivera, a dictator.
To this day, a tremendous monument, richly surrounded by flowers, is devoted to Primo de Rivera in Plaza de Arenal in Jerez. I put to you that Spain has a pending debt to its people: Confess!
The Franco era
The hate that had been seething in the population for decades if not centuries knew no limit during the civil war.
Not least in Catalonia (because Franco was determined to annul the region’s newly regained self-determination). Republicans killed a lot of people – often indiscriminately – not least members of the clergy. That was not nice of them, I admit, but you may be sure that the Spanish clergy had a lot to answer for.
Eventually, the Catalan fighters were killed, and not only during the war. By the thousands. Tens of thousands. Note that I am being purposefully vague about figures, both for Catalonia and for Spain as a whole.
Not that I haven’t often heard figures. For instance I just read that there are 33,000 unnamed graves in Valle de los Caídos, from which Franco was recently moved. The place was built by forced labour after the war. There was a great deal of forced labour after the war!
Why am I writing all this, you ask. Isn’t the war over? Franco has been dead since 1975, has he not? Spain is a democracy, is it not?
Yes. Yes and yes.
BUT … the outstanding debts
- The war and the dictatorship left hundreds (if not thousands) of mass graves.
- No effort has been made on the part of the state to establish the real number and location of persons killed by the deeply Catholic Franco administration.
- Even long after Franco, people were afraid to talk. In recent years, we have seen a few ancient bereaved spouses and mothers finally admitting to their children what they remember. Each opened mass grave and DNA identification of the remains has cost years of legal battles.
- There are no records, either with the church or with public authorities of who was killed, who died in prison, and who was tortured to death. Nobody even knows how many survived harsh and humiliating imprisonment and torture.
- Nobody has had to face charges of crimes against humanity. Perpetrators have not even been discredited.
- No compensation has been paid to the survivors; no treatment has been offered for PTSD.
You get an impression of how much Catalonia suffered during the dictatorship if you read fiction from Catalonia. Personally, I make no effort to seek out Catalonian fiction, but for many years, I have found, almost every time I look for a nice juicy crime novel to read, that the current best-seller recommended to me is Catalonian. (My favourite Catalonian author, however, is the long since deceased Manuel Vázquez Montalbán.) In almost all the books I have purchased, protagonists have relatives who were tortured and/or killed and/or disappeared during the regime. It’s not that long ago, you know.
Franco’s officials and supporters seem to have continued whatever line of work they had previously engaged in. This includes police officers.
Moreover, there were a lot of people who in their heart of hearts missed the strait-laced form of life he imposed. Not being one of them, I must now use my imagination: Tradition. Values. Respect to elders and to the male provider. Courtesy of men to women, modesty of women to men. Subordination of women and children. And not least: Adoration of the Church and the Crown and a firm belief that the history of the Patria was “glorious”. Finally, an almost military loyalty to the centralised state. Devolution of any form or shape was anathema to them.
They still miss it, loud and clear. Their nostalgia is being nursed by the powerful Partido Popular and the rapidly growing far-right Vox. As I write, Spaniards are casting their votes, and the two right-wing parties may well turn out to be the winners.
The Statute of Autonomy
The majority of Spain’s population was immensely relieved when Spain ceased to be a dictatorship. Both the Spanish Parliament (Cortes) and the Catalonian Parliament accepted the blessedly liberating Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia in 2006.
Not the PP. They complained to the Constitutional Court, the members of which are in essence politically elected. For four years, the court haggled over the issue, and the decision it finally reached in 2010 (to strike down 14 articles and alter 27) was not so much based on law as on the composition of the Court.
Outraged, the Catalans took to the streets.
I believe that the PP made a truly tragic mistake in contesting the Statute of Autonomy. The situation might have been put right if the Constitution had been amended to accommodate the 2006 Statute. Instead, Catalan frustration has been ridiculed and Catalan opposition has been harshly repressed. Catalans have been treated as naughty children by the national press, and the electorate outside Catalonia is becoming more chauvinistic by the day. I am fairly convinced that until 2018, the majority of Catalans were not – I repeat: NOT – in favour of secession. Certainly trade and industry were not. Now? I don’t know.
I deliver my views on this matter without referring to scholarly deliberations. The internatonal press tends to treat Spanish sensitivities kindly. After all, Spain is an EU member, and the country’s adaptation to democracy has been very impressive! The reason I am less kind is that I hope it is not too late to adopt a very different approach to the justly recalcitrant Catalonians.