Detentions and incarcerations of independence supporters. Spanish nationalists rioting and attacking the Catalans. Limitation of freedom of expression. We are experiencing this today, well into the 21st century, but 100 years ago the Catalans also suffered a similar wave of repression by the Spanish state and the violent groups that are backing it. These facts have been a constant in our history. This is what happens when your own country is dominated by another country and when a foreign regime imposes itself on you by force of arms.
The Catalans, as a people, experienced all this quite intensely between 1918 and 1919, during the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera and later during the dictatorship of Franco (especially) and in different degrees of intensity during our contemporary history, from 1714 to today. And now we going through it too. So far, the Spanish State has drowned, with the use of repressive force, the struggle for independence and democracy of the Catalan people, materialised in the referendum of independence on 1 October 2017 and the declaration of independence and proclamation of the Catalan Republic by the Parliament of Catalonia on 27 October 2017.
At the end of 1918 and the beginning of 1919 Catalonia was in an intense state of upheaval. The First World War, the Great War, had just ended, with the defeat of the two central empires (Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire) and Turkey. As a result of the defeat of these empires, which were made up of different nations, new independent states emerged, arising from the democratic will of their inhabitants, with borders that broadly corresponded to national identity criteria. Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, the southern Slavs of Yugoslavia, the Baltic countries (Finland, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia, which became independent from the Russian empire), were states that emerged thanks to the democratic will of their citizens from the ashes of the empires to which they had belonged. In Western Europe, Ireland was also fighting for independence against the British Empire that was subjugating it. All these countries served as an example to the Catalan nationalists in claiming for Catalonia a much greater autonomy within Spain or their independence.
La Lliga and other Pro-Catalan political groups, with the support of the Mancomunitat de Catalunya, the first self-government institution of its kind since 1714, launched a powerful campaign for Catalonia’s autonomy within a Spain ruled by King Alfonso XIII, the great-grandfather of the current Spanish monarch. La Unió Catalanista and the separatist groups that were close to it started a Pro-Catalan campaign in the streets in favour of an integral self-government of Catalonia or directly in favour of independence. At the end of 1918 and the beginning of 1919, Barcelona was the stage for many spontaneous Catalan demonstrations.
“The Pro-Catalonia supporters began to wear ribbons with the Catalan flag on their lapels”
It was then that the Catalans, to show their pride in being Catalans and as a form of political struggle, began to wear ribbons with the four stripes, representing the Catalan flag, on their lapels. Does this ring a bell?
Faced with such an increase in Catalan demands, the Spanish state, through its military and police (and also through Spanish right-wing extremist groups supposedly spontaneous) began to repress the Catalans. The Catalan protesters were attacked, they were shot at by the Spanish Patriotic League and the people wearing the ribbons were also targeted by the Spanish ultras (who were normally members of the Spanish military, police and state officials stationed in Catalonia and their families).
The assaults on the Catalans were so serious that two Catalan protesters were murdered. The 17-year-old, Manuel Miralpeix, was shot in Valldonzella Street on 19 January 1919. The next day he died as a result of his injuries. On Sunday 27 January, another young Catalan died, Joan Benet, singer of the Orfeó Català, who was also shot and passed away in February.
“The Catalans were physically assaulted, murdered, repressed and arrested”
Girls wearing the Catalan flag ribbons were attacked by Spanish nationalists, Catalan protesters were arrested and taken to the Modelo prison. The attacks only began to diminish when the Catalan protesters stopped turning the other cheek and began to revolt. At midday on 27 January 1919, the Spaniards wanted to remove the Catalan ribbons from the lapels of a group of Catalan Carlists. It seems that, far from letting themselves be attacked, they counterattacked “with gunshots”, according to the press of the time, because at the time many people carried firearms. In the face of this, the Spanish police began the charges that ended with 20 detainees, interestingly all of them were Catalans.
The weeks went by and the demonstrations (and the violence against the demonstrators) came to an end, but not the Catalan demands and the popular support for Catalan nationalism, which was increasing more and more. All this concluded in September 1923 with the coup d’état by Primo de Rivera and the dictatorship that followed.
Does all this sound familiar? Pro-Catalan demonstrations, Spanish attacks, Catalan activists arrested, ribbons with the Catalan flag in the lapel, monarchy disguised as a democracy that eventually becomes a dictatorship… Too many similarities with the current situation. We hope that this year, in the 21st century, the will of the Catalan people expressed democratically can finally prevail.
Source: Vibrant (Associació Cultural) @HistoriaVibrant
Author: Fèlix Rabassa i Martí @fenixrabassa historiador i divulgador.
Publication date: 5 April 2019