What are the Catalan Countries? An article by historian Blanca Serra

Catalan MonitorHistory

Often readers will find that besides speaking of Catalonia, people speak of the “Catalan Countries”. And that Catalonia is considered to be the historic home of the Catalan nation but that the full Catalan nation goes far beyond Catalonia proper covering territories that since the thirteenth century make up the national reality with a political, linguistic, social and institutional personality of its own.

The territory of the Catalan Countries includes:

a) The whole extension of the old Principality of Catalonia –including the so-called North Catalonia portion which has been under French control since 1659. Politically, it is at present divided into provinces – Barcelona, Tarragona, Lleida and Girona) and North Catalonia forms part of the French Department of the Eastern Pyrenees. The four provinces today make up the Autonomous Community of Catalonia

b) Most of the old Kingdom of València today made up of three provinces  –Castelló València i Alacant- which constitute the Autonomous Community of Valencià that those with national conscience call “País Valencià”

c) The Balearic and Pitiüsa islands – Mallorca, Minorca, Eivissa , Formentera, Cabrera and Dragonera- which make up the Autonomous Community of the Balearic Islands.

d) The so-called Franja de Ponent (western strip), which is a long fringe that today forms part of the neighbouring Aragon on the western edge of the Principality.

Linguistically, the Principality of Andorra and the city of L’Alguer, in Sardinia (Italy) form part of the of the Catalan-speaking countries).

The territory and population of the Catalan region is approximately the same as three US states -Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire- taken together. Its surface area is more extensive than five European countries (Denmark, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium and Albania) and it is more populated than seven (Switzerland, Finland, Denmark, Eire, Norway, Albania and Iceland). It currently has about 11 million inhabitants.

So the Catalan Countries Catalan are the complete Catalan nation (from Salses in North Catalonia in the French State) to Guardamar (Valencian Country) and from Fraga (Franja de Ponent) to Maó-Mahon (Minorca Island). It is identified as the historical territory of the Catalan nation.

Since our ancestors in Medieval times began to build the Catalan nation, there are traits in common that all territories share and there are traits of the different areas, which often do not match the current administrative or political divisions: the people of the Catalan Countries are Mediterranean and urban, heirs of Roman colonization. We are very much marked by the spread of Christianity against Islam. There are two historical borders with Islam, the East and the West: the advance on these two borders (conquest of Mallorca by Catalan King James I, in 1229, to the east and conquest of Valencia by the same king in 1238 to the West) forging the Catalan Countries.

The medieval historical formation is fully shared since its very foundation: a flag identifying it (the four red bars on a yellow background), a common language, a powerful vehicle for cultural and administrative life, the same make-up of society with peasants, nobility, merchant cities, craftsmen, artisans and guilds … and a political, fiscal and institutional system with constitutional texts in which monarchs must share power with representatives from the Parliament and with municipal privileges (a system based on pacts)and the political institutions are local, as for example the Catalan and Valencian Generalitats” or governments, the General Council of Majorca and the Parliament of Catalonia and Aragon.

Until the so-called Thirty Years War, one consequence of which was the Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659) that led to the fragmentation of Catalonia and the delivery of the northern part of its territory to the monarchy of Louis XIV, the Catalan Countries were organized horizontally as confederate regions, each with its own characteristics but giving each other mutual assistance in all areas but especially in the endless wars that the Spanish monarchy caused. Likewise, the battles lost and the punishments were shared in all the Catalan Countries in the War of Spanish Succession. This war affected all the Catalan Countries between 1707, when Philip V’s troops  won the battle of Almansa, until the defeat to Mallorca (1716) after the fierce siege of Barcelona in 1714, in which Catalans from the Principality of Catalonia, Valencians and Majorcans took part. Immediately after the territories of the Catalan Countries were occupied by the troops of Philip V, all its political, fiscal, cultural and institutional system was destroyed and substituted by the laws, taxes, language and customs system of Castile. They were now run by the so-called Decrees of New Foundation (Decret de Nova Planta) which, since its implementation, especially for the land taxes and the military occupation it meant, was hated by all in the Catalan Countries. Thus, for example, the portrait of Philip V is often placed face-down and the first WCs of the C19th were popularly called “Can Felip” (Philip’s House).

Despite the introduction of the centralized Bourbon model for a country submitted to the laws of Castile, we shall always find a popular current of thought and action that binds all the Catalan Countries together over the following centuries: struggles for land ownership by farmers, for a Republican political system, movements against the conscription of young men for the colonial wars, for linguistic and cultural recovery in a movement known as the Renaixença (Renaissance). When the military coup d’etat and the civil war started in 1936-39, both Valencia and the Principality of Catalonia were on the side of the republican legality and only the Balearic Islands, despite a movement of popular resistance, was occupied by fascist general Franco and used as a base to bomb Catalan cities on the mainland.

Forty years after the fascist dictatorship and forty years after a very imperfect restoration of democracy and the Bourbon monarchy, with a Constitution (1978) monitored by the military (who three years later, in 1981, caused another coup), Catalan society again seriously considered unifying the Catalan countries under a republican confederation. Although the Spanish Constitution included article (145.1 and 2), exclusively designed for the Catalan Countries (it forbids the federation of autonomous communities), the truth is that there is greater cultural and political harmony between the different regions, especially when it coincided with the deep Spanish crisis, with a full-scale popular awakening in favour of independence in the Principality of Catalonia. The nightmare of the current Spanish rulers is that the huge demonstrations of thousands of people in the Principality of Catalonia, especially during the commemoration of the National Day on 11th September (the day Barcelona fell into the hands of Philip VI))as well as the very important rallies occurring in Valencia on 9th October, commemorating the entry of king Jaume I in the city of Valencia, should end up bringing together a strong national and social demand of a political nature.

For now, there is a strengthening of the ties and joint economic demands (Mediterranean rail corridor, the relationship between the ports of Barcelona, Tarragona, Valencia and Alacant (Alicante), energy and water policies, complaints about the fiscal deficits …) social and political ties and social demands (anti-corruption, class trade unionism, the struggle against unemployment, education and public health for all, a joint communication space) and cultural and linguistic relations: The University Vives Network, named in honour of the Valencian humanist joins together 21 universities in the Catalan Countries including the university of Perpignan (Northern Catalonia to the French State), Andorra and Sassari in Sardinia (Italian State) that represent a collective group of over 440,000 people of which 400,000 are students; the Institute of Catalan Studies is an institution of high culture and an linguistic authority which acts in all the Catalan countries. There are also many popular civic associations, unions, political and cultural are represented in all the Catalan Countries such as Enllaçats per la Llengua (Language Link), the Federation of Organisations for the Catalan language, unions, student organizations, Saint John’s Night Bonfires, the Language Flame for Saint George and many others.

One can say that the Catalan Countries are a nation under construction, or rather under reconstruction, a project fully integrated in the XXIst Century.