dilluns, 14 d’abril de 2014

Francesc Macià, President of the Catalan Republic

Social and Democratic Commitment

On the 25th of December 1933, the President of Catalonia Francesc Macià died at the Palace of the Generalitat, the seat of the Catalan Government in the very heart of the city of Barcelona. Enormously popular, as proven by his landslide election victory of 1931, Macià was seen off by an enormous grieving crowd showing condolence at his funeral.

Mr. Macià –then known as the grandfather, a familiar, loving moniker– had had a haphazard life dedicated to his patriotic and social ideals –for an independent Catalonia and for a transformational left, though distanced from Marxism. However, neither his family origins nor his first vocation should have brought him there. Born in 1859 to a landowning family of wine and olive oil merchants, he began his career as an officer in the Corps of Engineers, reaching the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Spanish Army.

It was in fact the Spanish Army's liking for sabre-rattling and the ebullient social situation in Catalonia, with the reiterated discrimination by the Spanish State towards his country, Catalonia –affecting both the working class and the emerging middle class, as well as economic development in both rural and urban society– that gradually led Francesc Macià to become committed to the people and the land, with a growing interest in politics. He thence decided to resign his commission upon election to the Madrid Congress in 1907, even though he was offered promotion to the rank of Colonel.

A dedicated member of Congress in Madrid –more and more active in demanding democratic and social rights for Catalonia– in the midst of the organisation of new political movements, General Primo de Rivera's coup d'etat in 1923 led him to exile in France and Latin America. Now clearly siding with those fighting for the independence of Catalonia, Macià was tireless in coalescing the struggle of the exiled against the dictatorship. In 1926, he prepares an attempt at armed invasion of Catalonia over the Pyrenees –known as the Prats-de-Molló affair. The attempt was a fiasco, and the members of the expedition –with Macià at the forefront– were arrested by the French authorities. However, the trial held in Paris was a huge success, not just because of the insignificant sentence –two months, which had already been served– but because of the international exposure achieved through the allegations made in their defence by their counsel –French First World War hero Henri Torres– and by Macià himself. The trial thus became a stand against the Spanish dictatorship and for the freedom of Catalonia widely broadcast by the press everywhere.

The tireless member of Congress, the former soldier who had opted for the people and their country, became an internationally recognized leader who, upon returning to Catalonia in February 1931, participated in the founding of a new party, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Republican Left of Catalonia) which brought together political parties, social movements and various regional organizations, with the defence of Catalonia and progressive humanism at its core. Those in favour of independence were in the majority to differing degrees, and Macià was their undisputed leader. A few months later, on April 12, 1931, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya swept in with a landslide victory in the elections –as did other Republican groups in other parts of Spain. And on the 14th of April, Macià proclaimed the Catalan Republic –which was to be incorporated in a future Federation of Iberian Republics. Three days later, after protracted negotiations with ministers from the newborn Spanish Republic, Macià accepted that Catalonia should remain a Spanish territory, though now with political autonomy, its own devolved government within a single state, with a stated will to cooperate jointly in the progress of all its territories –a joint cooperation that has not always been forthcoming from the successive governments in Madrid.

Macià died as he led the process of national reconstruction, of social betterment and of democratic enhancement. He was succeeded –both in the party and as President of the Catalan autonomous government– by Lluís Companys, a labour lawyer with considerable experience in politics and in municipal management. Reared rather more towards social action, but with the same firmness in defence of the Catalan cause, Companys had to lead government of the country in very tough times, which became still harder with the Fascist insurrection led by General Franco in 1936. Exiled in Paris, Companys was arrested by the Gestapo and handed over to the Franco authorities. He was summarily executed in Barcelona in 1940 after trial before a military kangaroo court. Thus, no more than 75 years ago, in Europe a head of government elected democratically was executed, a crime that has since gone unanswered –all the Spanish governments since the restoration of democracy have refused to declare the trial null and void, which would be unheard of in any other member state of the European Union recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. 

Catalonia has now dauntlessly staked its future setting course for national sovereignty. She did so in a mass demonstration on the 11th of September –one and a half million people demanding independence in the streets of Barcelona– and in the results of the elections to the Catalan Parliament on the 25th of November, in which the parties favouring a referendum, the right to self-determination without limitations, won 87 of the 135 seats. This is the stake which has, in its first stage, materialised as the Parliamentary concord between Convergència i Unió –the governing coalition– and Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya –now the main opposition party– which contemplates a referendum in 2014 on Catalonia becoming the next state in Europe.

It is hoped by many this process will lead to a Republic of Catalonia. That is why it should be remembered –to remind ourselves and the whole of Europe– that on the 25th of December 1933, the President of what was the Catalan Republic, Francesc Macià died. And with the hope of building a modern, fair, equitable state, open to the world and based on social roots. Free. Then as now.

About the author of this article for Help Catalonia

Josep Bargalló Valls
First Minister and Minister of the Presidency of Catalonia 2004-2006
Minister of Education of Catalonia 2003-2004
Councillor in Torredembarra Town Council (1995-2003)
President of the
Ramon Llull Institute (2006-2010)
From 2010 he is Professor of the University Rovira i Virgili
Other articles by this author:
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