dissabte, 10 de setembre de 2011

9/11 is also Catalonia's National Remembrance Day

About the author of this article for Help Catalonia

Agustí Colomines
Professor of Contemporary History at the University of Barcelona
Director of the Fundació Catalanista i Demòcrata —CatDem

When a historian wishes to explain the historical significance of Catalonia's National Remembrance Day, he will usually say that September 11 was chosen to commemorate the events that took place in Barcelona on such a day in 1714.

Certainly, the end of the siege that Barcelona was submitted to during the international conflict that brought about the War of Succession, was first commemorated at the end of the 19th Century. France and the Spanish monarchy on one hand, had faced the Austro-Hungarian empire and England on the other. The Catalan authorities of the time had lent their support to the allies of the Archduke Charles of Austria, and thus suffered the consequences of defeat. The Catalanists of the 19th Century chose the date because, with the victory of the Bourbons, it marked the end of a confederate state model which had until then governed the Hispanic monarchy, to be replaced by another totally centralised one.
The Bourbon victory also meant the triumph of absolutism, which condemned Catalonia and the Spanish monarchy generally to a long period of political inertia and economic debility.
Furthermore, for Catalonia the new situation meant the final breach with the other two Catalan territories within the monarchy, Valencia and the Balearic Isles, and the application of the so-called Nueva Planta decrees, substituting their own institutions. The Bourbons did not stop there, imposing the Spanish language as the official language, substituting Catalan, which was –and is– those territories' own language.

Similarly to the United States' 9/11, the commemoration of Catalonia's 11th of September is more in remembrance, of lost freedom, than a celebration. It signifies, year after year, the memory that Catalonia was a national community that became a province of the Spanish crown and, worse still, a province condemned to discrimination and mistrustful oversight.
Commemoration of the defeat helps to explain why the Catalans still reject the violent origins of the unification of Spain. The commemoration of our Remembrance Day thus reminds us of the past. But since 1980, after the first democratic elections to decide on the composition of the recovered Parliament of Catalonia, the new Members institutionally declared the Eleventh of September Catalonia's national holiday. Article 8.1 of the Catalan Statute of Autonomy of 2006, which replaced the 1979 Statute, also declares Catalonia to be “defined as a nationality in article 1, has as its national symbols the flag, the holiday and the anthem”. And article 8.3 establishes that “the holiday of Catalonia is the Day of the Eleventh of September”. It is a patriotic holiday, just as the 4th of July is in the USA, with the purpose of maintaining alive national identity, collective progress and individual welfare, and also assuring internal coexistence, which is one of the basic characteristics of a society based, again like the USA, on the melting pot. Like the USA, diversity does not negate one Catalan identity. Or at least this has been the pedagogical imprint intended for Catalan society in general. A civil society, it is not to be forgotten, that has made it possible for Catalonia to have avoided any internal ethnic contentions.

Spanish democracy is relatively young. The 20th Century in Spain has been dominated by armed conflict (the wars in Africa in the first third, and the Civil War, 1936-39), dictatorships (Primo de Rivera, 1923-31; and Franco, 1939-75) and the rotten borough-like corruption of universal suffrage during the Restoration years (1876-1923). And as to self-government in Catalonia, the result is even more chilling. No more than the six-year period of political autonomy during the II Republic (1931-39), which ended badly with the head of the Catalan government, Lluís Companys, before the firing squad. Only since 1979 has democratic and parliamentary good sense triumphed, defended by contemporary political Catalanism, understood as a mass movement of vindication for national rights and not just the nationalist ideal of one particular party.

The fact that Catalans today are the central figure of the longest-lasting period of democracy and autonomy for Catalonia after so much suffering results from Catalan society claiming once and again its political and national freedoms. Perhaps Catalonia has not had such a brilliant contemporary history as its neighbouring countries, but its struggle though time to reconquer political dignity and self-government proves this history has been consistent. That during the thirty-two years of modern Catalan Government and Parliament, the nationalitarian principles –as we call them– have been maintained, in defence of “the freedoms, privileges and prerogatives of the Catalans, that our forebears, at the cost of glorious blood, attained and we must so maintain”, as the Deputies of the General proclaimed on July 14, 1713. The Catalonia we have inherited is no miracle, nor is it a romantic poetical inspiration, which it is is often said to be. We are a historical, congenial, European nation of the western Mediterranean that cannot disregard its past. That is why, on every National Remembrance day, we celebrate reunification, as sociologist Maurice Halbwachs would say, with a living history that permits the preservation of our own identifying traits without rejecting globalisation. That is the meaning of our September 11: commemorating once a year that which unites us as a national society, that which is, through our history, our language and our political culture, a shared homeland. This was the culture of historical Catalanism. And this is, likewise, the political culture of modern Catalan independentism.

Agustí Colomines i Companys
@agusticolomines

Professor of Contemporary History at the University of Barcelona
Director of the Fundació Catalanista i Demòcrata —CatDem

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