By Agustí Colomines (IT – In Transit newsletter)
“We are at a critical juncture for Catalan political life: one period of the Mancomunitat [the Catalan Commonwealth] ends, and a new one begins. We are concluding the period that begins with the fall of Barcelona, with the Nueva Planta Decree, with the suppression of the Consell de Cent [the Council of the One Hundred] and of the Generalitat [the Catalan Government]; and we begin another that is the tomorrow, the future, and is unknown. But this tomorrow, this future, this unknown about the awareness of our right and our strength and the direction of the universal currents, which are not yet tomorrow but that are creating it, ensure us that it will be triumphant for Catalonia and in close fellowship with other Hispanic peoples.”
This is how Enric Prat de la Riba began his inaugural address as president of Mancomunitat [the Catalan Commonwealth] on April 6th, 1914. Next Sunday will mark the 100-year anniversary of what we could consider the first contemporary attempt to give Catalonia a certain degree of autonomy after the suppression of the Catalan constitutions and the parliament in the time of the Habsburgs.
It was not exactly an autonomy as it is understood today, because the Commonwealth regime was based on uniting, under a single administration, all of the powers of the old diputaciones or provincial councils, and not based on a federal or con-federal reorganization of the State. The Spanish state during that period continued to be unitary and centralized since the Catalan Commonwealth was fed, essentially, from the transfers of powers from the provincial councils, which in addition were extremely slow.
But what is important about this first paragraph of the speech by Prat de la Riba is that the appeal to 1714 is minimal, historical, referential, and moves on immediately to the present, which was what had always interested Prat de la Riba since he abandoned the Romanticism that he himself had encouraged in the Bases de Manresa of 1892. In this sense, Prat was a modern man, whose Catalanism was democratic, nationalistic and conservative, but in no case whatsoever reactionary.
In 1914, Prat did not answer the call of history; he answered the call of politics, which is very different. The vision that he encouraged, together with a large group of professionals and intellectuals of different ideologies, was that the Catalonia of progress would have to expand across thousands of kilometers of roads, telephone cables and railroads that would transport goods and people, and at the same time it would enrich itself spiritually if it trained the population in all fields of knowledge and also in the practical skills of trades. Hospitals, libraries, schools, workshops, academies, museums and many more sprang up throughout Catalonia. As a Catalanist, Prat de la Riba became a great defender of social public policies, something rather unusual for a conservative.
Following Prat de la Riba’s theory, Catalonia was the nation and Spain was the State. His autonomist aspiration did not aim to break anything or separate anyone, as it is clear if we re-read the last sentence of the transcribed paragraph above when he is referring to what the Catalan Commonwealth meant: “it will be triumphant for Catalonia and in close fellowship with other Hispanic peoples.”
The problem was that the Spanish oligarchy that controlled the levers of the administration in Madrid was not capable of believing that this kind of proposal did not threaten the unity of the State, and that quite the opposite, it sought to regenerate it. “Regeneration” Catalanism, which has continued to our present day but is now in the process of going extinct, was born at that time.
That oligarchy that dominated the Spanish state eventually dismantled the Catalan Commonwealth and in 1923 it imposed the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera with the incomprehensible collaboration of Catalan governmental sectors, led by the second president of the Catalan Commonwealth, the architect Josep Puig i Caldafalch.
The State used the social turmoil that greatly frightened the Catalanist conservatism to bring an end to what could be called the “prodigious decade” of Catalan history just when the European continent was plunged into barbarism. The naïveté of the moderates of that moment was as blind as it was irresponsible.
If you will allow me to reference myself, beginning next Monday I will be in the bookstores with the book Pàtria i Progrès. La Mancomunitat de Catalunya 1914-1924 [Homeland and Progress. The Commonwealth of Catalonia 1914-1924], which I wrote together with the historian Aurora Madaula.
This book explains this and much more through figures such as Prat de la Riba, Eugeni d’Ors, Pompeu Fabra, Isidre Lloret, Cebrià de Montoliu, Rafael Campalans and Esteve Terradas. The prologue is by Francesc-Marc Álvaro, whose first sentence, which I agree with one hundred percent, is an excellent synthesis of what has been the history of this country: “The Catalans of today are more the children of 1914 than of 1714.” The rise of the pro-sovereignty movement is better understood as such than an appeal to the martyrs of three hundred years ago.
Indeed. After 100 years of trying the same thing Prat did to ensure “this close fellowship with the Hispanic peoples,” today moderate Catalanism, which in many respects is less conservative than in the past, intends to end the Pratian dichotomy between nation and State.
The Catalanists who are natural heirs of Prat know for Prat’s vision to be able to develop in our world today, the Spanish state cannot be permanently against it. The State and the nation must unite in the same perspective and be under a single political body.
The moderates of today are less nationalistic than Prat and, in exchange, give free rein to pro-sovereignty because, weary of battling against the Spanish state, they have reached the conclusion that to be present in the globalized world it is necessary to have the power to decide of a State of their own.