The last state called Catalonia had a life span of ten hours. On 6 October 1934, at eight o’clock in the evening, Catalan president Lluís Companys stepped on the balcony of the Palau de Generalitat on Barcelona’s Plaça de Sant Jaume. There he declared with ceremonial words that Catalonia was from that moment on a republic. The next morning at six o’clock everything was over.
Three years earlier, in 1931, the Spanish municipal elections were won by the Socialists and Republicans, joined together since the end of 1930 in what was called the Provisional Republican government. In Catalonia Companys’ party Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) was the biggest winner that year.
In Barcelona an euphoric Lluís Companys had already declared the Republic
On April 14, 1931, King Alfons XIII left the country and in Madrid the Second Spanish Republic was proclaimed. In the Spanish capital the partying started. On the Puerta del Sol square people went crazy. In Barcelona earlier that day, an euphoric Lluís Companys ( at that moment civil governor of the province of Barcelona) had already proclaimed the Republic. The aging ERC-leader Francesc Macià – lovingly called ‘avi’ (‘grandpa’) by his countrymen – didn´t know anything about it. When he heard the news, he was outraged…and proclaimed a Catalan Republic as a ‘member of the Iberian Federation. A federation that did not exist.
Under severe pressure from the provisional Republican government, Macià had to climb down the days after. He could be the president of an autonomous government apparatus (the Generalitat), but within the Spanish state.
A own Catalan statue
On August 2 1931 a referendum for a own Catalan ‘constitution’, the Estatut de Autonomia, was held in Catalonia. No less than 562. 691 Catalans (99% of the voters – only men) approved the draft statute of autonomy, 3276 voters opposed.
Without consulting the Catalan people, the Spanish parliament approved a diluted version of the statute
After a lot of discussion, and without consulting the Catalan people again, the Spanish parliament approved a diluted version of the statute on September 9, 1932. In the parliamentary elections that year, the ERC subsequently won twice as much votes as the more conservative Lliga Regionalista. Francesc Macià became president of Catalonia.
Violation of the constitution
The Macià government made Catalan the official language and spent more on health care and education. But then, at the end of 1933, grandpa Macià died. His successor was the number two of the ERC, Lluís Companys, much younger and even more headier than Macià. One of Companys first measures was the adoption of a law on cultivation contracts, which gave tenants more rights.
Not only the Lliga Regionalista was against it, the conservative Spanish parliament also objected. The gentlemen in Madrid rejected the law as being a violation of the constitution. With this, the relationships between Companys and Spain were put on the edge.
The friendship was definitely over when a new Spanish government took office in early 1934. Rightwing Spain had won the elections at the end of 1933. The big winner was the anti-republican Confederacion de Derechas Autonomas (CEDA) of the Jesuit lawyer Jose Mariá Gil Robles. Nevertheless, president Alcalá Zamora instructed Alejandro Lerroux, leader of the Partido Republicano Radical (PRR), to form a government.
“Catalonia cannot stand apart from the protests that flood the country“
Lluís Companys, 6 October 1934
The PRR ruled with the CEDA’s support and eliminated the reforms that the leftist government had implemented; catholic education returned, land revelations were revised and the heavily reduced army was restored. In October 1934, the CEDA ceased its support to the government of Ricardo Samper, since a few months successor to Lerroux. Lerroux then formed a new government, including three CEDA ministers.
The conservative wind caused a wave of protests, including a general strike. In Asturias, 40,000 miners resurrected. In order to teach the rebel miners – armed with dynamite – a lesson, the hostile government appealed to a young general who had made a name for himself in North Africa: Francisco Franco. The future Caudillo and his moorish ‘legion’ did what was expected of them, at the cost of about 1500 dead people and 3000 injured.
“Liberals, Democrats and Republicans, Catalonia cannot stand apart from the protests that flood the country”, Lluis Companys said on October 6, 1934, from the balcony of the Generalitat palace. “In the name of the people and parliament, the government of which I preside, takes over all the powers associated with the power in Catalonia, declaring the Catalan state within the Federal Republic of Spain.”
The central government in Madrid responded by declaring of the state of siege. Troops led by general Batet occupied Barcelona and shattered government buildings. Companys, who had refused to give weapons to the everyday more powerful and more numerous anarchists of Barcelona, only had a group of Catalan paramilitaries, the Escamots.
Troops led by general Batet occupied Barcelona and shattered government buildings
The next morning at six o’clock the unequal struggle was over. Companys was arrested and sentenced to 30 years imprisonment in prison El Puerto de Santa Maria, far away in Cádiz.
On February 16, 1936, he received amnesty after the Spanish elections were won by the Front Popular, a leftist coalition of which the ERC was also part. Lluis Companys became president of Catalonia again
Five months later, the Spanish Civil War began.