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Have you heard of a place called Catalonia?… maybe Barcelona does ring a bell. Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, a small nation over 1000 years old located in the north east of Spain.

In 711, the Muslim army began its conquest of the Visigothic Kingdom and a new country – al-Andalus – came into being. For four centuries, the lands of Balaguer, Lleida, Tarragona and Tortosa were part of the Islamic world, an economic and religious community that stretched all the way to India. Al-Andalus bordered the Catalan counties, which were part of the Hispanic March, the frontier territory of the Carolingian Empire.

At the end of the 10th century, the Catalan counts became independent from the Franks, with the House of Barcelona as the dominant family of counts. In the 12th century, the conquest of New Catalonia, the growing ties with Occitania and the dynastic union with Aragon into what became known as the Crown of Aragon strengthened the new country. The word Catalunya (Catalonia) emerged at virtually the same time as Catalan was first used in writing.

In the 13th century, Jaume I’s conquest of Majorca and Valencia led to a period of military and trading expansion throughout the Mediterranean that continued until the 15th century. The growth of the cities, the dramatic rise in trade and the consolidation of merchants and craftsmen are just some of the phenomena closely associated with this expansion. In the countryside, peasants tied to the land raised an armed revolt against their overlords, calling for the abolition of feudal payments, while in the cities, there was serious social upheaval. In the end, the entire country was drawn into the long Civil War (1462-1472) that pitted the governing institutions against the Crown. In 1479, Ferran II brought about a dynastic union with Castile through his marriage to Isabel I.

From 1516 Catalonia was linked to the other territories belonging to the Hapsburg Austrian Empire. This was a vast European empire, which was soon to extend to America and Asia. In Spain, Castile was the leading region and Catalonia remained no more than a peripheral province, bordering France and facing the Turks across the Mediterranean, and had barely any means to intervene in general affairs. A phase of economic growth began in Catalonia, though the struggle between the Hispanic monarchy and France led to constant border conflicts. At a time when the modern state was being built, the increasing authoritarianism of the monarchs came into conflict with constitutionalist doctrines drawn up by the Catalan institutions. This context provided the setting for the Reapers’ War (1640–1659) and the War of the Spanish Succession (1705–1715) in which the Franco-Spanish troops conquered Catalonia. Barcelona felt on September 11th 1714 and today this date is remembered every year by the Catalans, the date in which they lost their liberties. In 1716, Philip V, the first king of the Spanish branch of the Bourbons, issued the Decree of the New Plan, abolishing the constitutions and institutions of Catalonia.

The debate is about whether Catalonia should become independent from Spain. I’m Catalan by birth and I believe that, for somebody who is not, it can be quite difficult to understand why we want independence. That’s why I decided to explain some of these reasons.

Video: © Maria Padró Casas

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