of our Lord 2014 will be quite a big deal over here in Barcelona. And it all
started over three hundred years ago when a complete mongo was ruling the
largest empire in the world.
At the end
of the 17th century, Charles II was at the helm of the Kingdom of
Spain which meant he had sovereignty over the whole of the Iberian peninsula, a
massive chunk of the Americas, slices of the far-east, pretty much all of what
is now Belgium and the Netherlands (Flanders) not to mention lots of juicy
equity in France.
was that thanks to successive generations of Hapsburg inbreeding, young Chuck
was a frail, sickly halfwit with an Appalachian gene puddle and a face to prove
it. Seriously, check out this guy’s portraits. He’d have been kicked out of the
Rocky Horror Show.
naturally went to the dogs under his rule, he naturally died young and
naturally he left no heirs despite being married twice. When he did die at the
age of 38, the physician said his body “did not contain a single drop of blood;
his heart was the size of a peppercorn; his lungs corroded; his intestines
rotten and gangrenous; he had a single testicle, black as coal and his head was
full of water”. A walking argument
against the monarchical system of government, it was probably just as well the
poor bastard didn’t breed.
soap opera of succession:
croaking, Charles had named Phillip of Anjou as his successor. Phillip was of
the French house of Bourbon (not a pub) and was related to King Louis XIV. This
potential boost in French influence made a number of other European powers very
jumpy and even though Phil promised to cut all ties with the motherland when he
became King of Spain, the English, Dutch and Austrians went to war in 1701 to
prevent him from taking the throne. So began the war of Spanish Succession, a
bloodbath that lasted 13 years, caused countless deaths and misery all over the
world, practically bankrupted nations and didn’t make the slightest bit of
difference in the end.
The other pretender
to the Spanish throne (Phillip’s competitor) was one Archduke Charles of
Austria and it was his army that attacked and took Barcelona quite early in the
war (1705). By 1712-1713 the war was finally winding down. It was becoming
obvious that the Bourbon forces were getting the upper hand and the Brits were
even talking treaties. However, Catalonia decided to stay loyal to the
Hapsburgs and feared that all their self-rule would be removed if the crown
went to Bourbon-controlled Madrid. So they decided to dig in, fight and hope
that some European ally would eventually come to the rescue.
Franco-Spanish forces arrived outside Barcelona in the summer of 1713 but due
to a lack of men and artillery, they had to hang around filing their nails
until the spring of the following year when twenty thousand reinforcements
arrived. The locals fought bravely but
inevitably the overwhelming Bourbon forces bust through the city walls at the
end of August. The final standoff / massacre took place beside the Santa Maria
del Mar church on the 11 of September 1714. This date (whose importance has
unfortunately been co-opted by a more recent tragedy) is now the national day
of Catalonia and represents the moment when the region lost its sovereignty to
day the Catalans have been somewhat ‘limited’ by the rest of Spain. Their
access to the riches of the new world was limited, their language was limited (especially
under Franco’s rule) and a lot of decisions concerning how the region was run were
made from Madrid. This caused a lot of Catalans to resent the rest of Spain and
caused a lot of the rest of Spain to resent the Catalans - a charming tradition
that has lived on to this day.
siege, a natural distrust of the locals led the newly victorious forces to pull
down 17% of the old town and use the stones to build a massive citadel in its
place. Most of the locals who lost their homes were moved out to the large
sandbank that had been forming over the previous centuries. This area became
known as Barceloneta (little Barcelona) and all the new houses and streets were
built long and narrow and positioned in the direction of the citadel. This
meant that the soldiers in the fort could see down and if necessary, fire
cannon down any street they wanted.
is a park where the fort used to be (Park of the Citadel), the area that was torn
down to build the citadel is now the elegant Born neighborhood and Barceloneta
is a hip place to stop for a tapa on the way back from the city beach. When I first moved here, the beautiful abandoned
Born Market was going to be converted into a library but then they found ruins
of the old pre-siege streets beneath the floor and those plans were scrapped.
It took almost two decades and went ridiculously over budget but they finally managed
open the museum/cultural centre a few months ago. It’s actually not bad, but
the library would have been more useful.
has become one of the most productive regions in Spain and therefore a lot of
the taxes from here are used to support the less prosperous regions of the
nation - something perfectly normal within a contented federation of states,
yet it’s something that chafes with the Catalans who feel they’re getting
ripped off by Big Brother.
Franco popped his clogs in the mid-nineteen seventies, there has been constant local
political pressure to give Catalonia more autonomy with eventual independence
as an end goal. The region has won a lot of concessions – a local government
with a lot of clout, an education system that favors the Catalan language, a
local police force etc. Yet it is mostly all those tax Euros going to Madrid
that gets caught in the Catalan craw, especially now that the economy’s fallen
into the toilet.
the local nationalist coalition has really been upping the ante. Wherever there
are people suffering, there is usually some opportunistic politician looking
for a scapegoat and the push for independence has served as a nice distraction
from any local mishandling of the economy or giving away of public assets to
your pals through privatization.
nationalistic fervor that will come with the tri-centenary of the fall of
Barcelona couldn’t have come at a better time for our current masters. Despite
the gutting of the health system, the chronic decline in education and the
reduction in assistance to the poor and vulnerable, all we can expect from 2014
in Catalonia is a lot of pomp, jingoism and vitriolic flag waving with Madrid
painted as the cause of all evils.
is, if Catalonia really wants to break free, fair enough. In the long term, it
might not be a bad idea. However, being realistic in the short term, there will
be a tough price to pay. The next generation will have to live through some
serious hardship as the economy stabilizes. Spain might decide to stick a nasty
duty on Catalan imports just out of spite. If the people are expecting the
instant Utopia that the politicians are peddling, they’re in for a nasty
problem is that the European Union wants its Spanish debts paid and in the
event of Catalan independence, it will need to know what proportion of this
repayment will come from here. Nor is Brussels keen to encourage a whole lot of
fragmentation across the Union – first Catalonia and next it’ll be Scotland,
Corsica, Northern Italy and God knows where else queuing up for a divorce. They
have already turned their back on the idea of Catalan independence with a
statement last week where they fobbed off the problem as an “internal Spanish
prime minister has being criticized by his own people for not doing enough to combat
the Catalan drive for autonomy but I reckon he’s cleverly playing the waiting game.
The Catalan government keeps asking for a referendum for independence and he
just keeps calmly repeating that it would be against the national constitution.
Without support from Europe and continued inactivity, he probably reckons that
the movement will blow itself out. He might be right.
I’m not too pushed either way. Being Irish, I’ve had more than my fill of radical
nationalism. I figure that self-determination should be a right but that a
people shouldn’t kid themselves about the immediate upheavals and hardships
that will surely follow independence. If you really want it, you’ve got to be
prepared to suffer for it, at least for a while.
year will probably grate a bit shrill. I’ll definitely stay home on the 11th
curious to think though. If the Catalans had supported the Bourbons from the
beginning of the War of Succession, maybe it would be Madrid protesting for
independence and fighting to preserve the minority Spanish language.