20th Century AC
The fall of the regime of Miguel Primo de Rivera gave way to a ‘soft dictatorship’. The weakness of the government which was led by admiral Aznar and General Berenguer propelled the convocation of municipal elections in April 1931; these elections would deeply mark the evolution of the region over the succeeding years.
General Berenguer, faced with the instability of his own regime, convoked elections on April 12th 1931. These elections were, surprisingly, won by ‘Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya’ [Catalan Republican Left wing party] (ERC), which was a formation that had been created on March 19th of that year. In this way, ERC occupied the political domain the Regionalist League had previously occupied, which had suffered an enormous defeat together with ‘Acció Catalana’ [Catalan Action], before the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera.
The victory of the left wing political formations, which were both Catalan and Spanish, implied that the Republic was proclaimed in many cities and villages. In Barcelona, at half past one in the afternoon on April 14th, the winner at the elections, Lluís Companys, proclaimed the Republic from the balcony of the Town Hall in a ceremony which included the deployment of the three-banded Catalan flag. This situation pushed the leader of the nationalist formation, Francesc Macià to proclaim the Catalan State, in order not to loose power, which was integrated in the ‘Federació de Repúbliques Ibèriques’ [Federation of Iberian Republics]. In the evening, the Republic was proclaimed in Madrid, obliging King Alphonse XIII to go into exile. The fact that the Catalan Republic was proclaimed caused unrest in certain Spanish republican sectors, and this implied that, on April 17th, the ministers of the provisional government of the Republic, that is, Marcel·lí Domingo, Nicolau d’Olwer and Fernando de los Ríos reunited with Macià in order to force him to renounce the Catalan Republic in exchange for the reestablishment of the Generalitat de Catalunya, amongst other things, which is a petition he would finally accept.
The new political situation propelled the apparition of one of the agreements taken by the Spanish republicans to prepare a change of regime in the Treaty of Donostia in August 1930. At this meeting, which was attended by Jaume Aiguader (Catalan State) and Macià Mallol and Manuel Carrasco Formiguera (Catalan Action), it was assured that as the Republic arrived, Catalonia could benefit from a Statute of Autonomy, as long as the Spanish Courts approved it.
The Statute, which was redacted in Núria valley, was approved in plebiscite on August 2nd 1931. The participation was 75%, but 99% of the votes were affirmative. On June 28 1931, general elections were held, in which ERC amplified the political victory seen in the month of April, which was an event that implied Lluís Companys headed the Catalan minority in the Spanish Courts.
On December 9th the Spanish Constitution was passed, while the discussion of the Statute began in the Courts in May 1932. The Catalan text did not only come up against the foreseeable obstacles of the Spanish right wing party, but it also had to face certain opposition from some free-thinking intellectuals like Miguel de Unamuno and José Ortega y Gasset. The debates continued for months, which was a situation that could have lasted even longer had it not been for the failed monarchic coup d’état of General José Sanjurjo on August 10th 1932. This event made the republicans more reticent to vote in favour of the approval of the Statute.
In spite of the fact that the Catalan document demanded Catalan be considered an official language, it did accomplish for the first time that the Catalan language be considered co-official. It also obtained the exclusivity of civil law, local administration and administrative regime. However, the central state kept fields where it held legislative and executive power or just executive power. Nevertheless, some of these transfers were not accomplished until sometime later.
An ambit where the Statute did end as loosing was in the important diminishment of fiscal resources. The Catalan text requested the transfer of all the direct taxes and left the indirect ones for the Spanish State. In truth, Catalonia only acquired a territorial contribution and the royal or transmission of goods rights.
One of the sectors where the new Generalitat de Catalunya had the most influence was in education, although it was directed by the central state. In 1931, in the ambit of public primary education there were 663 classes, which turned into the not at all insignificant figure of 1.643 by 1936. In spite of the spectacular increase, schooling in Catalonia still had a high deficit in school places. In the field of secondary schooling, the number of secondary schools also rose: again all over the Catalan region they increased to twenty in number. Furthermore, the Generalitat created the ‘Institut Escola’ [Institute School], which was a training centre for future teachers.
Another ambit which experienced an important improvement was that of linguistic and cultural normalization, as witnessed by ‘Ràdio Associació de Catalunya’ [Radio Association of Catalonia], which carried out its programming exclusively in Catalan. The press also saw a relevant qualitative jump, because it went from having ten newspapers in Catalan in 1927 to twenty-five in 1933. The editing of books also found itself benefitted by this situation, as from 308 titles published in 1930 it rose to 865 in 1936. This was a development which found itself halted by Franco’s dictatorship.
On November 20th 1932 elections were held for the Parliament of Catalonia; these were characterised by two motives: the first was the political consolidation of ERC with their victory and the electoral growth of the Regionalist League; and the second was the Spanish and Catalan governments’ refusal to accede the feminine vote, in spite of the fact that the Spanish Government allowed it, for fear of a possible and unfounded feminine conservative vote.
The arrival of the Second Republic implied improvements in many aspects of society. One of those which caused the most disagreements was the agricultural reform. The changes effected in 1931 by the Catalan government in favour of the peasant’s interests clashed with those of the agricultural employers, that is, the ‘Institut Agrícola Català de Sant Isidre [Catalan Agricultural Institute of Saint Isidore], which was represented by the Regionalist League.
The Law of Cultivation Contracts, which was the name with which the agricultural reform was known, started to be raised in the Parliament at the end of September 1933. The victory of the right wing political formation in the November elections and the death of president Macià the following month put back further the discussion about the text.
Finally on February 1st 1934 the debate was initiated and, on April 11th, the Law was passed with 56 votes in favour and none against, due to the absence of the League, which was now known as the Catalan League, because it did not agree with the document. On April 24th, the League, together with other Spanish right wing formations, presented an incidental proposition to the Spanish Courts where it demanded that the government present a resource of non-constitutionality in front of the ‘Tribunal de Garanties Constitutionals’ [Tribunal for Constitutional Guarantees], due to the incompetence of the Catalan Parliament to legislate upon the matter. Although the law came into force on May 5th, the Tribunal of Guarantees ruled its invalidity.
In spite of this decision, on June 12th the president of the Generalitat, Lluís Companys, again introduced a law to the Parliament exactly the same as that which had been invalidated. The Law of Contracts was again approved and then abolished by central government. However, the president of the Spanish government, Ricardo Samper, ended up approving it on July 4th, which made him loose his post soon afterwards. On September 12th, the Parliament of Catalonia approved the law with the modifications agreed with the government of Madrid. In spite of this, the Law of Cultivation Contracts had an ephemeral life because the events of October 6th 1934 meant that the government of the Generalitat, and all of its laws, were suppressed. It was not until the victory of ‘Front Popular’ [Popular Front] in February 1936 that the law again became operative.
On November 19th 1933, elections were held for the general Courts; in these elections women were finally allowed to vote. On this occasion, the victory was for the right wing, both on a Spanish and Catalan level. In the State, the winning formation was that of the ‘Confederación Española de Derechas Autónomas’ [Spanish Confederation of the Autonomous Right] (CEDA), while in Catalonia the victory was for the League, which was now called the Catalan League. The fact that a political formation like CEDA, with a high Spanish and catholic component, could impose itself rapidly alarmed the left wing formations, which accused women of being to blame for the right wing victory. This was a totally false claim, because the triumph was more due to the division of the republican forces, the abstention of anarchic syndicalism, the wear and tear of the republican government and the gathering of the right wing parties.
Aspects such as the right wing victory and the later oppressive government towards Catalonia and the Law of Cultivation Contracts further irritated the political panorama, which would finally explode in October 1934.