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.
Norman Etherington was educated at Yale University and came to Australia as a lecturer in history at the University of Adelaide in 1968. He is a past president of the Australian Historical Association and Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Western Australia, and continues to write on British Imperial and African History. His recent publications include Missions and Empire (Oxford University Press, 2007), Mapping Colonial Conquest: Australia and Southern Africa (UWA Publishing, 2007), and articles for the American Historical Review and the Journal of African History.
From the New Issue
You May Also Like
Cold War Exiles and the CIA: Plotting to free Russia by Benjamin TromlyReviewed by Mark Edele