I am flattered to be given the opportunity to speak these words at the closing of this conference, given its academic importance and its social and political relevance. And as I’m sure you’re all aware, it is a particular honour given the time and place in which this conference is taking place. I am, of course, referring to the city of Utrecht.
Before I continue, please allow me to give special thanks to the heads of the University, one of the oldest and most prestigious in Europe, and also the heads of University College, for their willingness to host this event. The prestige of these institutions highlights the relevance of this debate; in fact, it is an acknowledgement of its social and political weight. It also helps to promote the debate, and to broadcast a process that has been the focal point for all Catalan society for some time now.
I wanted to talk about Utrecht because, it was in this city in 1713 that a treaty was signed, with the intention of ending the War ofthe Spanish Succession. I say “intention”, because we all know that for Catalonia the war didn’t end until 1714, exactly three hundred years ago. However, Utrecht was much more than that: it was the city where a new world order was drawn up, where Europe was given a new physiognomy that Catalonia has never ceased to question.
As you may know, throughout 2014 Catalonia is commemorating the tercentenary of the events of 1714, one of the most decisive periods in our history. On 11 September 1714 the city of Barcelona fell after heroically resisting a 14-month siege, thereby ending the War of the Spanish Succession. This conflict, fought over the right to ascend the Spanish throne, spanned the globe and involved two opposing world views: in political terms, the compromising or collaborative approach of the Catalans, who supported the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, and on the other side, the absolutism of Philip V of the House of Bourbon. For Catalonia, the defeat of the Austrian side had a profound impact on all aspects of life, the echoes of which can still be heard today.
As well as being a war of succession, for Catalonia the War of the Spanish Succession was a conflict in which remaining neutral was not an option. It was the principle of compromise versus the principle of absolutism: a major conflict, by any measure.
With the commemoration of the Tercentenary we are remembering the historical thread that binds the past to the present and the future. What we were, what we are and what we will be. We can also see this continuity in the international activities that were carried out then, and in the international activities that are being carried out now. Let me explain in more detail.
The story of Catalan diplomacy with regard to the Treaty of Utrecht is one of virtually endless obstacles. Perhaps for that reason it is also one of the many stories of our persistence, of our stubbornness, almost.
The Catalans were talked about, and we the Catalans wanted to have our say. But we were unlucky, in both cases. I’ll give you a brief example with the story of Pau Ignasi de Dalmases i Ros, a man whose relevance and commitment is not as well-remembered as it should be.
Pau Ignasi de Dalmases was the Catalan Ambassador to England at that time, although he was not able to participate in the discussions at Utrecht because the great powers considered Catalonia to be represented by the imperial plenipotentiaries.
However, this did not dissuade Dalmases, who made intense international diplomatic efforts in an attempt to ensure the commitments made by Queen Anne would be honored.
In June 1713 Dalmases was received by Queen Anne, and implored her to allow Catalonia to retain its laws and freedoms, which were under threat due to the war in which Catalonia and England were fighting side by side. Moreover, as Dalmases himself said, they were “laws, privileges and freedoms that greatly resemble and are almost entirely the same as those of England”. These concepts of freedom and parliamentarianism that were defended by Dalmases are highly significant, as they highlight the nature of the struggle that found expression in the War of the Spanish Succession.
The queen referred him to point 13 of the Treaty, which declared that the Catalan people would have “all the privileges possessed by the inhabitants of the two kingdoms”. However, in reality, this meant the obliteration of Catalan freedoms. Dalmases managed to get 24 lords to appeal to Queen Anne on his behalf, which opened up the debate known as the Case of the Catalans. A debate, we should note, that was revived in July 2010, when 14 Members of Parliament, representing constituencies in Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland, submitted a motion in Westminster to support the right of the Catalan people to decide their own future.
Dalmases didn’t give up, not even after the Treaty had been signed, and after the death of Queen Anne he intensified his efforts until he secured a commitment from the English to assess the option (among others) of converting Catalonia and the Balearic Islands into a republic protected by the imperial powers and their allies. Dalmases felt that a republic was the preferred option, as “republics respect and value their peers”.
This news reached the resistance in Catalonia, which still retained hope of an Allied intervention that would never come. For Dalmases, the fall of Barcelona signified “the enslavement of the Catalan people and the ruin of Catalonia; with our misfortune and destruction we have increased the wealth of the Germans, English, Dutch and Portuguese”.
Dalmases’ efforts were evidence of the fact that, at that moment in our history, Catalonia would not be able to enjoy the right to self-determination, in all senses of the term. The only decision that lay within our power was the decision to resist. However, it was resistance in the hope of unlikely aid from outside; aid that never came.
Our fate was to be dependent on the willingness of third parties. And we couldn’t even take part in the discussion on an equal footing. We were an object, never a subject. However, the historical evidence clearly shows that our desire to exist, to resist, to persist, was clear and constant, both within and beyond Catalonia.
With the commemoration of the Tercentenary we want to draw attention to two things that I feel are of particular interest in historical terms: one, that we have much to learn about our own history; and two, that our cause, our capacity for resistance, was recognised in Europe, even years after the war had ended.
300 years later, the Case of the Catalans is being discussed in political chambers around the world. It’s also being discussed in the media, on the Internet and on the streets. When we say that the eyes of the world are on us, we are not exaggerating, as it is an accurate description of the situation we are currently facing. Governments and institutions cannot avoid participating in a process that obliges them to take a position, even if they do so only internally. The people would not understand it if they did otherwise. The international media are sending correspondents to our country in an attempt to answer the following question: what is happening in Catalonia?
It is a remarkable situation, certainly; the likes of which we have not seen since the tumult of 1714 itself. Until now there has never been such sustained and genuine interest in Catalonia and its future. From time to time we have been able to capture the world’s attention through specific moments and activities, such as Pau Casals’ appearance at the United Nations, the Barcelona Olympics, the successes of Barcelona FC and the cooking of Ferran Adrià. But those were only fleeting interests. In contrast, the interest our country now attracts is not fleeting, and goes far beyond a single moment or activity. The path Catalonia has begun to take is a new path, a different path. Moreover, it is a peaceful, civic and democratic path. It could not be any other way, in 21st-century Europe.
In fact, what the Catalan people want today is not so different from what we wanted back then. We want our opinion to be listened to. We want to participate in the discussion as an active subject, not a passive object.
In these times of profound crisis, at all levels, where the new has not yet been born and the old has not yet died, it is not enough simply to have the flexibility to adapt to change. We must have the strength to help bring about that change. And once again, that is what we are demanding; our right to actively participate in this process.
In 1713, Catalonia and its demands were not universally supported by the various European countries. There were divisions. In England, Austria and even in France, the defenders of the Catalan cause were sadly unable to impose their views.
What support does Catalonia have in today’s Europe? Do we have the capacity to generate empathy in public opinion, beyond the efforts of government? Has our time come? I am convinced that the answer to both questions is yes. Today’s Europe, which has been able to secure a stable, consolidated peace after centuries of conflict, cannot ignore the Case of the Catalans. And we, the Catalans, have a lot to say about peace, going as far back as the 11th century and the movement known as “The Peace and Truce of God”, which gave rise to the Corts Catalanes, our first parliament.
Although today we do not have illustrious ambassadors to speak on our behalf, we the Catalan people are proclaiming our own cause. We have a strong civic voice that speaks up and makes itself heard. And we have heard this voice speak here, at this conference that has now drawn to a close; despite the involvement of vested interests, what is happening in Catalonia today is clearly a bottom-up process. It is the people who are doing the pushing, and the institutions are positioning themselves accordingly. It is an entire population that is speaking, that is mobilising, within the context of a European Union where, as I mentioned before, conflicts and demands are not resolved through force of arms but through the force of the ballot box, democratically.
We are a grown-up nation that does not need to be nannied. A European nation that wants to decide its future in peace, without being excluded from the European Union.
I am convinced that your democratic traditions will make our arguments both comprehensible and attractive. I am also convinced that, this time, we will find allies among all our fellow European nations.
Director of the 1714 Tercentenary Commemoration
Utrecht, April 8th, 2014