What is Catalanism and what does it advocate?

Agustí Colomines's picture
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Catalanism is the name of a movement of national vindication that advocates for the political-cultural recognition of Catalonia within Spain. After the failure of the violent uprisings of Catalans during the 17th century (the War of Catalan Secession of 1640) and the 18th century (the War of Spanish Succession of 1714), starting in the 19th century the movement to preserve Catalans’ national rights became more peaceful and civic. From the start of this renewal, Catalanism expressed itself through different ideological currents (Catholic, liberal, working class, etc), aided by the popular use of the Catalan language, the defense of a distinct culture and the popular anti-centralist movements. Thus, the loyalty of the working classes to their distinct Catalan identity – expressed, above all else, in the language they spoke - is what has supported Catalanism, a word that synthesizes the pluralism of Catalan Nationalism. Long before the creation of the first strictly Catalanist political party in 1901, which tended to be conservative, the national awakening of Catalonia was ignited by the popular republican and federal movements, cultural and historical nationalism and the emotional separatism that had taken root among members of the rural population, who had been the great protagonists of the previous secessionist revolts.

It would be impossible to explain Catalanism without first taking into account that Catalonia is a differentiated society within Spain. And it is differentiated from a national but also an economic point of view. The needs of Catalan industrialization, which followed the English model of economic development based on the textile industry, were also factors that favored the growth of Catalanism. The colonial crisis of 1898, which marked the end of Spanish Colonialism, encouraged the Catalan bourgeoisie (which up until then had been closely tied to the Spanish State and profoundly Castillianized) to turn and give support to some of the very first groups of national vindication. This agreement between old federalists, cultural nationalists and the conservative-bourgeois groups gave Catalanism a boost, and its new focus became the vindication of a greater status of political autonomy in the Spanish context. The history of Catalanism in the 20th century can be summed up in this struggle to achieve self-government, a struggle that has had to overcome the wars and the dictatorships sparked by Spanish militarism. Catalanism, therefore, is an anti-centralization movement that has only achieved institutional recognition of its self-government on three occasions: 1914-1923 (with the monarchy of Alfons XIII), 1931-1939 (during the Second Republic), and the present, which began with the reestablishment of democracy of 1978, the restoration of the monarchy and the approval of the Statute of Autonomy.

After twenty-six years of the 1979 Statute being in effect, the Parliament of Catalonia approved a new Statute following a long and tense negotiation in the Spanish Parliament in which changes were made to the fundamental articles on the identity and the powers for regulating the Catalan economy and finances. Since then the tension between Catalonia and the Spanish authorities has been increasing and the strength of Catalanism is becoming more and more evident, a Catalanism that is now calling for full sovereignty within the context of Europe.


Agustí Colomines

Director of the Arts and Humanities Department at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC), Professor of Contemporary History at the Universitat de Barcelona (UB) and director of the Fundació Catalanista i Demòcrata (CatDem Foundation). Member of the Editorial Board of In-Transit.

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It would be much better for Catalonia if its people concentrated on being more productive and competitive. In this respect, Catalans have much more in common with other Spaniards than with any other folks in Europe. The reluctance to move in order to get a better job is typically Spanish and contributes to keeping Spanish wages far below the European average. In Catalonia, as well as the rest of Spain, showing up for work is more important than what you actually do at work, leading to low productivity, especially compared to workers in the UK, Holland, France, Nothern Italy and Germany, among others. 

The reason Catalonia is more industrialized than most other parts of Spain is purely geographic in nature. The textile industry relies on imports of raw materials and access to export markets. The Barcelona area is far better suited for the establishment of that and any other industry than, say, Extremadura or Castilla La Mancha. When people are offered more opportunities, it's easier to become more industrious as opposed to people who's only choice is agriculture. It's no coincidence that the other prosperous region in Spain besides the administrative capital is Basque Country, with similar geographic advantages.

It is shameful that Spaniards from less fortunate regions who come to Catalonia to take advantage of the better economic opportunities offered by a region with a major corridor to the rest of europe and a major industrial port are villified and told to "go back to their country."

Areas with good access to import and export markets and areas rich in natural resources are obviously going to be the most prosperous and the country as a whole depends on these regions. The USA, which depends on Alaska and Texas for revenue from natural resources and New York as a major port and financial center would be far less successful as a country if these regions separated and became independent from the USA. The same holds for Spain, which would suffer if Catalonia and Basque Country separated and became independent. Sure, Catalans and Basques would prosper even more, as would Texans and Alaskans and New Yorkers. But surely, we can't allow greed to be the driving force behind Catalan national policy, can we?  

The author calls for full sovereignty for Catalonia but doesn't explain what the benefits will be for Catalans. One can safely assume that the supposed benefits are financial in nature, given the complaining that Catalanistas like to do about the taxes they have to pay to Madrid. Additional supposed benefits are likely more self-determination. The benefits of the latter are questionable at best. Who says the decisions by local politicians will be better for the people than the decisions by politicians in Madrid? Left to their own devices, fools are much more likely to hang themselves with the rope they are given.

But let's talk about the supposed financial benefits. Does anyone in Catalonia even know how much it costs to run a full-fledged sovereign country? Has anyone thought about the cost of embassies and consulates in more than 200 foreign countries? Or how about national defence: airforce, navy and ground forces? How about the contributions a sovereign Catalonia is going to have to make to the EU as a wealthy member, subsidizing the eastern bloc nations just like Catalonia was once subsidized? How about contributions to NATO and the UN? How about foreign aid? All of these costs will have to be born by a relatively small population, like that of Denmark. Does anyone in Catalonia know the total tax burden in Denmark for its citizens? It was 48,3% in 2009, compared to 33% in Spain.

And we haven't even talked about the low fertility rate in Catalonia. A xenophobic sovereign Catalonia will undoubtedly restrict immigration and shoot itself in the foot (or the head) by putting an even greater tax burden on a shrinking population for sky-rocketing health care and pension costs. If local politicians lend an ear to the anti-tourism faction among the Catalanistas, they might even restrict tourism and reduce income from Catalonia's biggest industry.

Maybe Catalanistas should concentrate more on becoming a bit more competitive and productive. Catalonia doesn't produce a single product that is world-renowned. Neither does Spain. It seems Catalans have more in common with other Spaniards than with Danish or Dutch or Swiss people, or even Belgian or Scottish people. 

You say the CNA "aims to foster debate and improve the understanding of Catalan reality." Then why won't you publish this comment? Are you afraid of the truth? Does your idea of democracy not include free speech and allow for dissenting views?