Catalonians: A nation without a state - ÖZLEM ALBAYRAK

Catalonians: A nation without a state

The referendum in Catalonia has been widely covered by the Turkish media since it corresponded to the same time of Barzani’s referendum for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). As the European Union completely opposed the possibility of Catalonia’s independence, its hesitation regarding northern Iraq drew everybody’s reaction.

It drew reaction because when other regions of the world are in question, Europe has defended micro-nationalism and supported “nations’ right to determine their own fate” as early as 1789 but this approach is out of question for regions such as Ireland and Catalonia which are geographically located within the European borders. While ETA and IRA have been seen as blood-shedding terrorist organizations for years, separatists in the east and south of the world have been supported covertly if not seemingly. Like in the case of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its offshoots PYD-YPD today…

Under these circumstances, the question “If every nation has the right to establish a state, why is this right of the Catalonians, who have the features of a nation for almost one thousand years, being prevented?” cannot be asked because there is no foundation to this question. After all, as Barzani was looking for freedom, he lost Kirkuk and dropped off the agenda. So the issue of Catalonia seems to have been put aside.

When the social history of the Catalans is looked at, an interesting course of events is observed*. Those people have been a nation with their own languages and culture since nearly the 900s. The Catalans were a Mediterranean Empire in the 13th and 15th century. It was such an empire that it covered Majorca, Valencia, Sicily, some parts of Greece including Athens, Sardinia and Napoli as well as the French territory beyond the Pyrenees and many other large and small territories. The main activity of the Catalans was trade at the time.

After King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile married and Spain’s crown grew powerful, like other states in the region, Catalonia, too, lost its feature as an independent political formation as a result that those who were not Castilian were prevented from trading in Europe, the Iberian Peninsula and Americas. However, when this situation led Catalonia to industrialization, it started to become the center for capital accumulation in the region. Due to the culture and institution conflicts, and its rentier economy based on heavy taxes, the first uprising in Catalonia and Portugal broke out in 1640 against Castile which was the antecedent of today’s Spain.

Portugal profited from this revolt and gained independence with the support of England, but Catalonia did not have such a chance. Uprisings continued in the 1700s. The Catalonians were defeated in all of them and lost all of their political self-governance institutions, local governments based on democratic councils, parliaments and independent governments. Then, a long period where oppressing policies were imposed on the Catalan language and culture came along. Catalans were able to speak their languages only in church and at their homes. They responded to this situation by keeping their hands completely off of state affairs and dedicating themselves only to work. As a result, Catalonia became industrialized through the end of the 18th century and remained as the only industrialized region in Spain for more than one hundred years.

In almost all periods, Catalonians were known as people who always had a bourgeoisie, were economically powerful and had a very high level of education and culture. Having been effected by the nationalist movements appearing in the 18th century, Catalans have sought their rights and sometimes resorted to revolting for this cause but they have always been stopped. This cycle has always remained the same and continued until today. They were able to receive autonomy in 1932 thanks to the attempts of Catalans after the Republic was proclaimed in Spain. After the civil war between 1936 and 1939 in Spain, the languages and culture of the Catalans have been systematically oppressed.

The struggle has always continued and in 1978, the phrase that Spain is "a state comprised of nationalities” was added to Article 2 of the constitution in 1978. Law recognized bilingualism. It is interesting that the Catalonians’ demand for independence was widely discussed again in 2003 in Spain and it was revealed that instead of being a sovereign nation-state, Catalans wanted to continue their existence as a nation under the Spanish government, opposed to the idea of secession. 

The fact that the same Catalonians support independence at a rate of 90 percent in the 2017 referendum before even 15 years have passed needs to be pondered. It means that Catalonians do not feel at home anymore…

In brief, Catalan identity is not an invented identity. The Catalan society is a society which has been essentially organized around a language but also has a local political democracy and self-governance tradition besides a territorial continuity for at least a thousand years. And it is Spain which needs to accommodate itself in the face of such a long history, language union, national consciousness and self-governance experience. Catalans are not members of an imaginary community but carriers of a thousand-year long cultural identity. They deserve at least this much…

 In this writing, the book entitled The Power of Identity was benefitted. (Castells, 2008, ss: 61-75).


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