Catalonia has always had a distinct culture and language and a strong desire for self-government. Though Catalonia lost its independence in 1714, there was a political and cultural renaissance in the 19th century which eventually led to the proclamation of the Catalan Republic in 1931. Subsequent negotiations with the Spanish Republic led to a wide-reaching autonomy. However, General Franco’s fascist victory in 1939 led to the suspension of Catalonia’s autonomy, a ban on the Catalan language, and a fierce repression forcing 200,000 Catalans to go into exile. Franco also ordered the execution of Catalonia’s President at that time, Lluís Companys.
After Franco’s death, 1977 saw the return of the Catalan President, Josep Tarradellas who had been elected in exile. This allowed for the reestablishment of the autonomous government. Subsequently, the Spanish Constitution of 1978 and the 1979 Statute of Autonomy for Catalonia set the limits of its autonomy.
Spain has become economically and socially modernised since then but it has not fully accommodated its internal diversity into its political setup. A new statute of autonomy, agreed by referendum in Catalonia and passed by the Spanish parliament in 2006, was drastically altered by a controversial court ruling in 2010. Catalonia’s proposal for greater fiscal autonomy was then rejected out of hand. Attacks against Catalonia’s education system and linguistic rights have also increased and more and more recentralisation measures are being taken.
A referendum on self-determination is necessary to reset the relationship between Catalonia and Spain. It is the popular demand of more than 80% of Catalans in opinion polls, and of a clear majority of members of the Catalan parliament.