Thursday, 10 September 2009

Francesc Macià - a Symbol Uniting Catalans

September 11 is the National Day of Cataloniala Diada - and, as always, the main celebration will take place in the park Ciutadella of Barcelona. This year, special respect will be paid to Francesc Macià with an official commemoration of his birth 150 years ago.

Francesc Macià i Llussà was born in 1859 in Vilanova i la Geltrú, but by the age of 15 he moved to Guadalajara to start military training. He reached the rank of Lieutenant Colonel before, in 1905, a grouping within the Spanish military attacked the print house of the Catalan magazines la Veu de Catalunya and Cucut over some caricatures. Macià was appalled when a court declared the perpetrators innocent and sided with his native Catalan culture, although that put an end to his career in the armed forces.

In 1907, he became a member of the Spanish parliament for the highly popular party Solidaritat Catalana (in 1907, it won 44 of the 47 seats available for Catalonia) and was re-elected six times, representing the small town les Borges Blanques (province of Lleida), from where his family of business people had its origins.

Spain during this period managed to stay neutral during WWI but was heavily marked by social unrest and debilitating wars in the colonies. In 1923, Primo de Rivera installed a military regime which received the support of the king, Alfonso XIII. Macià went into exile in Paris, via Perpignan, while the movement of catalan independentistes - Estat Català – which he had founded in 1922 – worked together with anarchists and communists to initiate an insurrection in Catalonia. Financial support was given by Catalans in South America but, in spite of many efforts, Macià never managed to convince Moscow to enter into the conflict.

In 1926, the Estat Català attempted an armed attack on Spain in what is called the 'complot of Prats de Molló'. It was stopped by French intervention, but the subsequent court trial turned into a media success which increased Macià’s popularity among Catalans. After that, Macià exiled himself in Belgium, Argentina and, finally, Cuba, from where he put together a constitution for what he wanted to see as a future, independent Republic of Catalonia.

When Primo de Rivera lost power in 1931, Macià returned to Catalonia, where his Estat Català became one of the founding forces of Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya. This new party won the municipal elections of that same year and Macià could claim the title as president of the Diputació de Barcelona. However, when he was greeted by the masses, he took the opportunity to at the same time announce the creation of a “Catalan republic within a federation of Iberian republics”. That was not liked by those who, on the same day but in Madrid, proclaimed the Second Spanish Rebublic, however the disagreement was solved through negotiations: the historical Generalitat was established as the highest political organ of Catalonia and it was agreed that the Catalans would be granted an autonomy charter (estatut).

The draft estatut - approved with large majorities first by the municipal councils of Catalonia and then by the electorate - defined Spain as a “voluntary federation”. However, in the text which was finally ratified by the parliament in Madrid, that had been changed to an “integral state compatible with municipal and regional autonomy”.

In that environment, Macià lead the provisional government of Catalonia to, after the 1932 elections, formally become the President of the Generalitat. In 1933, he died a natural death and Lluís Companys – co-founder of Esquerra Republicana – took over.

Macià always regretted that his fight had depended on the support of Spanish republicans and that he thereby did not achieve full independence for Catalonia. “Catalonia, poor Catalonia (Catalunya, pobre Catalunya)” are said to have been his last words. The funeral made the masses take to the streets - they loved Macià and called him grandfather (avi). Still today is he one of the strongest uniting symbols of the Catalan political culture.

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The Catalan flag, la Senyera, which will be hoisted in Ciutadella on Friday comes from the town hall of Vilanova i la Geltrú and it will be handed over by our mayor Joan Ignasi Elena (PSC) to acknowledge that Francesc Maciá was born here.

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During la Diada, there is a trade fair called the “Mostra d’Entitats” in the Passeig de Lluís Companys of Barcelona, where a large number of NGOs, companies and other entities related to Catalan culture take part. So will I this year.

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Sources: Wikipedia on Francesc Macià and on Alfonso XIII.

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

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