CATALUNYA, OR CATALONIA is region in north-east Spain.


Today’s Catalonia (then Aragon) formed a union with Castile in 1479, but later became subordinate to it,’(The Economist, ‘Where borders are the migrants,’ 17 Nov 2018, p28). ‘Unlike Scotland, Catalonia was never an independent nation state. Its origins lie in the County of Barcelona, a Frankish principality established as part of the Carolingian empire during the reconquest of Spain from Muslim rule. In 1137 it was merged by dynastic marriage into the Kingdom of Aragon, and in 1479, under Ferdinand and Isabella, into Habsburg Spain. The separatists make much of the War of the Spanish Succession, when the victorious Bourbon monarch, Philip V, conquered Barcelona after a gruelling siege and abolished Aragon’s feudal “constitutions”. But in the war Catalonia was divided between the Austrian and French side. In due course it would thrive as an integral part of Bourbon Spain,’ (‘In two minds,’ article in The Economist Special Report Spain, July 28th 2018, p6-7).


‘The contemporary idea of the Catalan nation was born in the 19th century, when nationalism and popular sovereignty emerged as organising principles in Europe. The Spanish state, having lost most of its empire and been invaded by Napoleon, was weak and penniless. “A weak state can’t eliminate local differences,” Mr Álvarez Junco points out. There were few schools to impose linguistic uniformity or inculcate the idea of the Spanish nation. Geography added to the difficulty of nation-building: after Switzerland, Spain is western Europe’s most mountainous country. Madrid was a court more than a capital, surrounded by the barren tablelands of Castile. The economically dynamic and industrialising regions in the 19th century, especially Catalonia and the Basque country, were on the coast. It was that industrial bourgeoisie which created Catalan nationalism. It wanted trade protection from Madrid but was also influenced by German Romanticism, especially the ideas of Johann Gottfried Herder, who believed that a nation was an organic essence defined by language rather than a cultural and political construct, as theorists today think. Artur Mas, Mr Puigdemont’s predecessor, defined Catalans as “more Germanic than Roman” (despite their abundant Roman ruins). From the mid-19th century, as migrants began to flood in from southern Spain to work in Catalonia’s factories, a cultural renaissance rescued the Catalan language from slow decline and promoted Catalan history and culture. In the early 20th century that movement turned into a political demand for home rule, which was achieved briefly from the early 1930s but snuffed out by Franco, who barred the public use of Catalan. The Basque country went through a similar process,’ (‘In two minds,’ article in The Economist Special Report Spain, July 28th 2018, p6-7).


‘Spain’s constitution of 1978 gave Catalonia, one of the country’s most prosperous regions, more self-government than almost any other part of Europe. The Generalitat [the Catalan government] controls not just schools and hospitals but police and prisons. It has made Catalan the main language of teaching. Under Jordi Pujol, the skilful moderate nationalist cacique (political boss) who headed the Generalitat from 1980 to 2003, Catalonia was content with this settlement, using its votes in the Madrid parliament to extract increments to it powers and revenues, (‘Catalexit?’ The Economist January 7th 2017, p19).


‘Catalonia accounts for roughly a fifth of Spain’s GDP and a quarter of its exports, but only a sixth of the country’s population. Its diversified economy is the envy of much of Spain, notes Jordi Alberich Llaveria of Cercle d’Economia, a business lobby in Barcelona, thanks to flourishing medium-sized, family-run industrial, textile and perfume-making firms. It has become a hub for multinationals, carmakers, pharmaceutical firms, fashion boutiques and hundreds of startups,’ (‘Adéu to Catalonia’ The Economist December 16th 2017, p58).


‘The Catalan government insists on all teaching in state schools being in Catalan, with Spanish taught as a foreign language, which some parents find vexing. A ruling by the Supreme Court in 2015 that at least 25% of teaching should be in Spanish has been ignored. The history taught in Catalan schools has a nationalist tinge,’ (‘In two minds,’ article in The Economist Special Report Spain, July 28th 2018, p6-7).