divendres, 11 de setembre del 2009

Hang out your flags!

This morning, I woke up by 9:15. Usually, by this time, I should be already in the office working. But today is a bank holiday. It's Catalonia's National Day.

The curious thing about this date is that we remember the biggest defeat Catalonia had. Yes, we celebrate that we were on the losing side in the Spanish Succession War at the beginning of the 18th century, which supposed the end of many Catalan liberties in favour of a centralised government model.

But what was exactly the Spanish Succession War? It might seem that it was only an internal Spanish matter. But it wasn't: it also involved other European countries. Since the beginning of the 16th century, Spain had been reigned by the Habsburgs -or "Àustries", in Catalan- dinasty. They were a dinasty which came from Austria, or to be honest with history, from the Austria-hungary empire. However, in 1700 the then king Charles II died without offspring (he was always ill and he was mentally-retarded due to too close consanguity and royal endogamy). Then, succession matters started. Charles II was replaced by Joseph Ferdinand of Bavary, but he soon died too and the issue appeared again. Two kings claimed, for differents reasons, the throne to be legitimatily theirs: Philip of Bourbon and Charles of Austria.

Charles of Austria

Philip V of Bourbon

Catalonia took its position for Charles of Austria, probably because the Borbonic model was a centralised one, which would sure suppose the end of many priviledges it had (as it happened). Besides, Catalans had already had fought a war from 1640 to 1659. This war is known as "La Guerra dels Segadors" (The reapers' war), as it broke out in Corpus day (7 June 1640) when a group of Catalan peasants, armed with their sickles, entered the city of Barcelona and revolted against the count-duke of Olivares who represented the Spanish kingdom in Catalonia. Olivares had been abusing Catalans war resources for the war Castilla (Spain) was fighting against Borbonic France. There were too many troops on rural Catalonia, and the fields were devastated because of that. The peasants were indeed loyal to the then king Philip IV, but they were certainly annoyed to see their crops devastated, as this meant hunger. The war ended in 1659 with the Treaty of the Pyrenees, where Catalonia lost the now French area of the Roussillon, an up-to-then Aragonese-Catalan territory. What remains of this war in popular knowledge is the hymn of Catalonia, Els Segadors (The reapers)

La Guerra de Segadors breaks out (painting of 1907)

Well, after explaining why Catalonia took its sides with Charles of Austria, let's go back to what matters in this post. The Succession Wars broke out in 1701: Habsburgs against Bourbons. The war had also repercussions in Europe, therefore we can say it was an international war -well, to be honest, at the time Europe was in the hands of a few royal families who held power...so things were easily international matters.

War advanced and finally Borbonic troops won. Catalonia was severly punished. It was one of the last places to fall under Borbonic hands. But still, you might be wondering what the Catalan National Day has to do with that. Now that I covered the basis, let's come to the point (sorry, it is difficult to get to the point if you are not given the context first).

Towards the end of the Succession wars, by 1713 the Bourbons knew they had won (and they had the support of Borbonic France) and "invited" the city of Barcelona to surrender. Catalan institutions saw that surrendering would mean the end of their system, so they decided to resist. Troops were gathered and about one year later, Barcelona was placed under siege. It was a hard siege and resources soon finished. On 11th September 1714, Rafael de Casanova, the then head of Barcelona, had to surrender to Philip V's troops.

The siege of Barcelona

This defeat supposed, as I already pointed out, the end of Catalan institutions who were replaced by a heavy centralised system based in Madrid. The "Decretos de Nueva Planta" (The Nueva Planta decrees) were issued and Catalonia, as a losing side, was severely affected by them: not only Catalan institutions disappeared, but Catalan was not longer used in writing and of course , Catalans could not trade nor have a share in the wealth coming from Spanish Empire (or the "Americas") -note that this was the golden age of the Spanish Empire (in Spanish, "el imperio donde nunca se pone el sol" or in English"the Empire where the sun never sets").

Luckily, things have improved (well, after other hardships like Franco's dictatorship). We have been granted back some rights than we had on that time. But still, there is a long way to walk.

So what do we do every 11th September?

-We hang out a Senyera (the Catalan flag) over the balcony or the window.

-There are institutional acts, the main one being the flower offering to the Rafael de Casanova monument in Barcelona by the Generalitat president, the mayor of Barcelona and other Catalan political figures.

-Go to el Fossar de les Moreres in Barcelona, where many of the fallen of the 1714 siege were buried.

-If you are a very revolutionary Catalan fighter, organize reivindicative acts or attend them.

-Dance sardanes, the typical dance of Catalonia.

-Go to the official acts held in the Plaça de la Ciutadella in Barcelona.

-On 10th September listen or pretend to listen the speech by the Catalan president on TV3.

This is the president of la Generalitat of the TV3 comic show "Polònia".
Right after the official speech yesterday, the fake president appeared
making its own particular discourse. I cracked with laughter :D.

-Sing or listen the Catalan hymn "Els segadors" (right hand in the heart). When you listen to the lyrics it a very violent song related to the reapers who rebelled and related to rural life.

-Simply chill at home or take advantage of the day, or if it falls near the weekend, just take a mini-holidays. Like many people does and I am going to do: I'm leaving for the weekend with the 15.00 h train to Valencia. I feel Catalan, but I do not think doing all the above will make more Catalan, at the end all these acts are political and I must confess I am quite disappointed with Catalan politicians.