Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Catalonia: Spearheading Constitutionalism in Europe

About the author of this article for Help Catalonia
Miquel Perez Latre

Doctor of History, Archivist and Blogger




In the next few years, when Catalonia becomes part again of the free nations, we will finally be able to recover a political tradition of our own, built over more than five centuries of sovereignty. Almost three hundred years of Spanish occupation have darkened, through the black night of old regime’s absolutism and contemporary dictatorships, what was the slow but bright buildup of a political system that put

Catalonia, during the medieval and modern times, among the leading countries in terms of creating modern political structures, which is to say, both solidly established and agreed upon. In the early eighteenth century, right before Catalonia lost its freedom, the country was going on the same political path as that of the great powers in the Atlantic which set the path of progress, Great Britain and the Netherlands.

In 1971, in his famous speech to the United Nations, Pau Casals reminded the world that Catalonia had had an ancient parliamentary tradition equal to that of the leading nations, perhaps even the oldest. Indeed, beginning in the thirteenth century, Catalonia built a constitutional system based on discussion, agreement and consensus between the royal power and the people representing the ruling classes of the country. It was not a democratic system (it would take six more centuries before the introduction of liberalism in Europe,) but it allowed for a broader framework of representation. This system was partly fed by local representatives in towns and cities, where the people made their voices heard clearly.

Between 1283 and 1706 the Corts Catalanes, the heart of the country's sovereignty, built a legislative body based on Roman law and on precedent, called Constitutions of Catalonia, which was particularly advanced in the consolidation of fundamental legal principles, including even those dealing with the rights of the individuals.

For example, beginning in the late fifteenth century, and all throughout the modern age, Catalans devised a shared-ownership system of land acquisition which made peace possible in the countryside. The vast majority of the political body was so identified with this system, perfected over the centuries, that Catalan-ness was defined more through allegiance to those laws than (as in contemporary nationalism) through the use of language or sharing of a common culture.

Located between two great kingdoms, the Spanish and the French, constitutional Catalonia, together with its sister kingdom, the Crown of Aragon, was able to develop, beginning in the mid-fourteenth century, a tax system of its own, which is considered by some experts as one of the oldest public treasuries in the world. Our country's institutions had full control over fiscal matters. They were responsible for collecting all the principal taxes (besides the essential municipal taxes) to which all Catalans were bound, including the monarch himself, his ministers and his officers.

This old, established political system was annihilated by the use of disproportionate force by the Bourbon dynasty, which freely applied the right of conquest and made do with our constitutional tradition of progress, leading Catalonia down the path of absolutist political regression, forever dependent on imposition. Today, in the middle of an economic crisis, when the country is struggling to regain control of its own economic resources, as all nations in the world do, we should remember these facts more than ever.



Miquel Perez Latre, Doctor of History, archivist and blogger

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