Wednesday, 10 September 2008

ENG: What Catalans Commemorate on September 11

To most of the western world, the 11th of September is a day when we recall how, in 2001, our civilization was attacked by islamic terrorists. By an unfortunate coincidence, this is also the date of the Catalan national holiday – the Diada (short for la Diada Nacional de Catalunya).

On the “Onze de Setembre” of 1714, the defenders of Barcelona had to surrender after a siege which marked the end of the war of the Spanish succession (1701-1714). The Kingdom of Aragon, to which Catalonia belonged, had supported the Austrian archduke Charles’ claim to the Spanish throne, but he had had to give it up to the Bourbons. As a result of the war, Spanish regions in modern Italy and the Netherlands were taken over by the Austrians while Catalonia and everything to the west of it continued to belong to Spain.

What Catalonia lost on this day was not really its sovereignty – since the 12th century it had belonged to the Kingdom of Aragon which, in turn, from 1516 formed part of the decentralized Kingdom of Spain – but its furs (fueros, in Spanish). The furs were autonomy charters which allowed regions to maintain local institutions and law, but now they were replaced with the Nova Planta, a decree which, among other things, imposed Spanish as the only official language and centralized all administration. The Basque Country and Navarra, which had supported the Bourbons during the conflict, were allowed to keep their furs and that is the background to why, still today, these autonomous communities have separate fiscal and administrative systems within the Spanish state.

The celebrations of the Diada started in the 19th century as memorial speeches in the church Santa Maria del Mar (el Born) next to the Fossar de les Moreres where many bodies had been thrown into a mass grave after the war. At the time, the Catalan nationalist left criticised the acts for being religious, but they were the root of the first formal manifestation. The latter was held in 1901 at the monument to Rafael Casanova - a lawyer who in 1714, according to the legend, heroicly encouraged the Barcelona citizens to fight - and ended with 30 people being arrested.

During the dictatorship from 1939 to 1975, the Diada could only be celebrated in private, but in 1964, on the day of its 250th anniversary, some dared to manifest their Catalanisme in public, encouraged by the fact that the Franco regime celebrated “25 years of peace” after the Civil War. Of the 3.000 people who took to the streets, in fact, only seven were detained.

Throughout the last century not only Spanish oppression reduced the participation in the celebrations. A contributing factor have been internal conflicts among the Catalan nationalist, always split into left- and right-wing factions. That is a phenomenon which we know well from the politics of our days but, interestingly enough, since the Diada was declared national holiday in 1980, it has become a symbol of an inclusive Catalan unity. With the exception of Ciutadans, all political parties take part in the acts, i.e. even Partit Popular.

Here in Vilanova the program will start at 12.00 and take place at the statute of Francesc Macià – a Vilanova native and former President of Catalonia. This is by tradition a beautiful but calm manifestation of popular support for the Catalan culture. Those who are looking for hard-core independentistes will have to go to Barcelona. Posters about the celebrations there are hard to miss.

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Related web-sites: Wikipedia on the Diada Nacional de Catalunya, the Web of the Diada and 11setembre. And, of course, my own entry from last year on this topic.

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Technorati tags: Barcelona, Catalonia, Independence, Spain, Vilanova

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