By John Mowat
Catalonia had a lot in common with other neighbouring Mediterranean areas between 2000 & 300 years ago. Some towns were founded by Iberians, Greeks & Carthaginians. It was called the Hispania, in Roman times, around 2000 years ago. After the fall of the Roman Empire it came under Visgothic rule. Between718 and 760 it was occupied by the Moors, from North Africa.
The Frankish Empire conquered Roussion, in neighbouring France, in 760, extending the area around Barcelona as a buffer against Moorish rule.
Christianity replaced the Muslim rule, continuing later as part of the Kingdom of Aragon. The Moors controlled two thirds of Spain from 711 to 1085, half of Spain until 1246 and Granada, only, in the south until 1492.
The Catalan language and economy prospered in this period. Catalan became the language of present day Catalonia, Valencia, the Balearic Islands, Sardinia, Sicily and Naples. Spain became one of the main colonial powers in Europe after 1500, particularly in South America. It was involved in many wars and conflicts with France, England and Netherlands. The Spanish Armada was defeated by England, in 1588.
Today’s Catalan language is much closer to French & Italian than it is to Castillian Spanish. Barcelona retained its own language and culture until the Spanish wars of Succession, during Napoleonic times. The Napoleonic occupation and war in Spain in the early 1800s began a period of political and economic turmoil, in Spain and Catalonia, as in much of the rest of Europe.
From around 1850, rapid economic growth took place along with industrialisation.This was considerably later than in UK, Germany and Northern Europe. During the first third of the 20th century Catalonia gained and lost varying degrees of autonomy. Madrid, the Basque country and Catalonia fought hard to defend the second Spanish Republic in the later 1930s. The 1936 to 1938 civil war devastated these parts of Spain in particular. The Nazi hard right wing forces of Francisco Franco cancelled all the Spanish autonomous regions and brutally imposed Spanish language and culture. No mercy was shown to Catalonia & the Basque country, as their languages, traditions and cultures were discredited. The years after the Civil War, in Spain, along with the post war years were very difficult.The Spanish economy was destroyed and remained cut off by international trade boycotts.
Only by 1955, did the Catalan economy return to its 1936 levels. From 1959 to 1965 Spain experienced rapid economic growth as Franco’s hold weakened. Franco died in 1975, ending a long nightmare of Spanish dictatorship. The General Elections of 1977 restored a provisional administration.
In 1978 Catalonia voted overwhelmingly for the new democratic Spanish Constitution which again recognised Catalonian autonomy and language. Catalonia was thus approved as “a nationality”.
During the 1980s & 1990s the economy of Catalonia grew rapidly. An autonomous police force was set up. Catalonia has its own High Court of Justice. The Catalan Government promotes Catalan culture, including a thriving film industry. The 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games were one of the most successful ever held. It led to large scale rebuilding and refurbishment of sports and cultural facilities, tourist infrastructure , making Barcelona & surrounding areas of Catalonia a desirable destination.
Meanwhile the port and the container terminal of Barcelona were developed and modernised as a hub for economic growth for the region. Catalan economic growth has outstripped economic growth in the rest of Spain.
This has led to a degree of resentment on both sides; the Catalan & Spanish Governments.
Rapid political and economic changes have taken place, in Spain, over the past 45 to 50 years. Spain also experienced a prolonged recession up to 2015. Some of the issues were similar to those of the UK with banking problems and a property boom.
This political, economic and social change has taken place over a much shorter period than most of the rest of Europe. King Juan Carlos played a pivotal role in the early days of Spanish democracy. The 1978 Constitution is relatively recent. Like all Constitutions, it needs to be flexible to cope with change. Democracy, in Spain is fairly recent, compared to much of Europe. Many people still have vivid memories of Franco’s dictatorship.
Mariano Rajoy has been Prime Minister of Spain, since 2011. He is relatively right wing, in his views and a degree authoritarian, in outlook. He enjoyed a landslide victory in 2011, lost his majority in 2015 and was re-elected Prime Minister in 2016 as the head of a minority Government.
We are all familiar with recent actions of Rajoy’s Spanish Government. Actions of the 4000 Spanish riot police injured over 850 Catalan people, during the recent Catalan Independence vote. This was widely covered in the media and on our television screens.
At EU level he has been heavily criticised by many Northern European Leaders, particularly German Chancellor, Angela Merkel who advised dialogue and debate round a table between Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy and Catalan President Carles Puigdemont.
The abolition of the Catalonian Government, by Rajoy, has caused anger, resentment and disruption. Rajoy has called an Election in Catalonia, on 21 st December, 2017. There are 135 seats in the Catalan Parliament; 68 are needed for a majority.
Meanwhile 10 of the leading Catalonian members were locked up in three different Spanish Jails, while Catalan Leader,Puigdemont and 4 other members took refuge, in Belgium.
A Spanish Supreme Court judge decided today (4th December) Vice president Junqueras, Home Affairs minister Forn, and pro-independence civil leaders Cuixart and Sànchez, will continue held in custody, the other six jailed officials granted a 100,000€ bail . It is difficult to see how a free and fair Election can be carried out with many of these leading Catalan politicians in jail or overseas. At present there is a lack of dialogue, debate and uncertainty makes it difficult to predict a final outcome of the present crisis in Spain and Catalonia.
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