Burrowing through world history

A million people thronged the streets of Barcelona on 11 September 2012, clamouring for liberty. This had been their special day long before 9/11. Like Gallipoli, it commemorates a defeat: the rout of the Catalans and their Austrian Hapsburg allies by the Bourbon monarch Philip V of Spain on 11 September 1714 in the closing stages of the War of the Spanish Succession. How could something that occurred three centuries ago get Barcelonans so worked up? It all goes back to the foundation of modern Spain through the marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile in 1469. Forging a nation-state in an age of non-stop warfare proved a brutal business. The Catalans saw their ancient rights trampled underfoot and rose in rebellion, first in the 1640s and once again in 1714. Move forward a couple of centuries and the Catalans again felt the boot of oppression under Franco. Even speaking their provincial language aroused suspicion. With the passing of the dictator, Catalan nationalists pressed successfully for a degree of regional autonomy. Harnessing the past in the service of the present, in 1980 they declared 11 September Catalonia’s National Day. With Spain now reeling under an austerity program, Catalans took to the streets of Barcelona to demand full independence, which would mean the end of Spain as the world has known it for the last 500 years.

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Published in February 2013 no. 348

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