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Post More on Catalonian Nationhood; Hispania
Created by John Eipper on 09/23/14 3:53 AM

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More on Catalonian Nationhood; Hispania (Jordi Molins, Spain, 09/23/14 3:53 am)

José Ignacio Soler wrote on 22 September:

"The Romans viewed and referred to Spain as a territorial identity, Hispania, not perhaps independent in the modern sense but still unified, according to Roman historians at least, by having a cultural and territorial identity of its own. I wonder if this older reference would make much more sense for a modern nation seeking unity and consolidation, than other historical provincial or individual events that say otherwise?"

That is not correct. Hispania defined a geographical concept (the Iberian Peninsula). However, during the Roman period, Hispania was divided into different areas (and not ruled as a single political entity): under the Republic, Hispania Citerior and Hispania Ulterior. The former, representing quite closely what we now understand as "Països Catalans" (areas were Catalan is spoken). The latter, approximately the same as modern Andalucia. Later, there were more subdivisions, such as the Baetica, Lusitania and Tarraconensis.

Why did the Romans use such territorial subdivisions, instead of using Hispania as a single political entity? Because those subdivisions were "real," in the sense of being the divisions of the Pre-Roman peoples of the Iberian peninsula: Iberians (approximately the "Països Catalans"), Aquitanians (approximately the Basque country), the Celtics, the Lusitanians, etc.

In fact, it is highly surprising to me that the original human distributions of Pre-Roman peoples of the Iberian peninsula resemble so closely the current nationalities within Spain. Instead, it does not seem that something such as a unity of those peoples ever existed, or even tried or imagined.

Another surprising fact is that the two denominations for "Spain," Hispania and Iberia, seem in fact more related in its origin to the "Països Catalans" than to the Iberian Peninsula. For example, the Hispania Citerior / Ulterior original division only represented the Mediterranean part of the Peninsula:


And Iberians were, as said before, the Pre-Roman peoples living in approximately the current "Països Catalans." Iberians did not populate the rest of the Iberian peninsula. As a consequence, it seems that using the term Iberia to describe the Iberian peninsula suggests that, for some reason, the current area of the "Països Catalans" had some kind of relevance with respect the other parts of the Peninsula:


The only brief period in which the Iberian Peninsula was politically unified was during the Visigoths. However, the subdivision of the territory (Tarraconensis ...) remained. Also, the capital city was oddly in Tolouse. And it does not look like the Visigoth rule can be understood, in any sense, as a proto-modern Spain.

José Ignacio wrote:

"I still do not understand what can be wrong in pursuing the consolidation of perhaps 'singular nations' with a strong common past, unless the petty, provincial or parochial perception of being 'different' require that they would be better off separated. Catalonians and Basques seem to be against the trend for future survival of the nations. It seems pretty obvious that singular nations together are stronger than separated."

It is not obvious at all. In fact, the previous statement is most likely wrong. The United Nations started with 51 member states, in 1945. Currently, there are 193 of them. Spain has lost territories during its history, leading to 22 new states. Not even one has ever wanted to return to the "Mother Country." In fact, the only case of a country reunification is the case of Germany (which was divided originally against its will). Europe is an obvious case of the modernity representing the creation of new states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Kosovo ...). As a consequence, it seems quite obvious that those new states see themselves better off "separated." The fact they never want to "come back" is a pretty good signal that this belief is true in practice.

JE comments:  In my studies I was never aware of the Hispania Citerior/Ulterior distinction.  This must be fairly common knowledge among Catalonia's independence proponents, however, as it establishes a strong historical precedent for the Catalonian state.

There is one case of a nation willingly attaching itself to a former colonizer: the Dominican Republic chose to re-annex itself (briefly) to Spain, in 1861, in response to threats of another occupation by Haiti.  Had the US not been fighting a civil war at the time, the Dominicans might have thrown in their lot with the more powerful Yanquis to the north.

But this episode is only the exception that proves the rule.

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  • What is Spain? What is Catalonia? Some Historical Quotations (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 09/24/14 1:50 PM)
    I am thankful to the WAIS Forum and to Jordi Molins in particular, for the chance to discuss such important issues about Spain and Catalonia. For the first time in many years, it has become possible to make some intelligent arguments about this subject, though I must apologize to those WAISers who are not particularly interested in Catalonia.

    This is a comment on Jordi's post of 23 September, about the term Hispania. Jordi states that it only referred to a geographical concept, instead of a political one, and consequently Hispania should not be related to a "nation" in the modern sense. There is some truth in his statement; I just mentioned this fact to illustrate the idea that the origins of a nation most commonly should be found in more ancient times, and that obviously the "geographical unity" is maybe the beginning of this identity.

    According to Jordi, "Another surprising fact is that the two denominations for 'Spain,' Hispania and Iberia, seem in fact more related in its origin to the 'Països Catalans' than to the Iberian Peninsula." It is not clear how Jordi reaches this surprising conclusion.

    To make this point more clear, Hispania was the name given to the Iberian Peninsula as a whole by Romans, though there were some administrative distribution: Hispania Tarraconense, Lusitania, Betica, Citerior and Ulterior. The Iberian term is the name given by the Greeks to the same territory in even more ancient times, and going further back, the term i-spn-ya is the name given by the Phoenicians c. 1000 BCE to the same territory. Incidentally, the term means "Tierra de Conejos," (rabbit land?) because of the abundance of these animals.


    Anyway, this discussion might be purely rhetorical, because the key subject is whether Spain as a nation is a real entity, or just a purely political ongoing or failed project, proposed by Jordi, as opposed to Catalonia being a real nation.

    In searching for possible answers, I have found some very interesting historical testimonies that perhaps would help better to understand the concept of Spain as a nation. They are historical quotations, by very important Catalonian historical figures, and they will speak for themselves.

    1. Jaume I, King of Aragon and Count of Barcelona, in 1215, made this declaration: "Lo hacemos, en primer lugar, por Dios, en segundo para salvar a España, y en tercer lugar para que nosotros y vosotros adquiramos buena fama y gran nombre por haber salvado España." For non Spanish-speaking WAISers, the King mentioned Spain as the Leitmotif to achieve whatever they wanted to do.

    2. The same Jaume I of Aragon, (Catalonia was part of his kingdom) in his Chronicles, speaks of his kingdom as "lo meylor Regne de Espanya," and his father, as "lo pus franch Rey que anch fos en Espanya." Again, mentioning his kingdom as part of Spain.

    3. This statement: "Más vale morir con honra peleando, que no con deshonra y afrentados en las ciudades como tratantes, perdiendo la reputación y opinión ganada por la nación española, en tantas y tan señaladas e importantes guerras y batallas por todo el mundo," was made by Catalonian nobles before Pedro III "El Grande," King of Aragon and Sicilia, Count of Barcelona, son of Jaume I, asking them to help to counter the French threat to invade Aragon and Sicilia, in which they mentioned the Spanish nation.

    4. The following is an extract, a bit long, of the edict or proclamation in Barcelona from Rafael Casanova (Counselor of Barcelona) y Antoni Villarroel (Catalonian Commander -in-chief), September 11, 1714, on the ocassion of the War of Sucession: "Se hace saber a todos generalmente, de parte de los Excmos. Comunes, y oídos los Señores de la Junta de Gobern, personas asociadas, nobles, ciudadanos y oficiales de guerra, que están impidiendo al enemigo internarse en la ciudad [...] en la que hoy reside la libertad de todo el Principado y de toda España, ciudad expuesta a someterse a una completa esclavitud [...]. Y habiendo gravemente reflexionado sobre el estado en que los enemigos del Rey Nuestro Señor, de nuestra libertad y de nuestra patria, están apostados ocupando todas las brechas, cortaduras y baluartes [...], se hace también saber que, siendo la esclavitud cierta y forzosa, [...] se explica, declara y protesta a los presentes, y se da testimonio a los venideros, de que se han ejecutado las últimas exhortaciones y esfuerzos, protestando de todos los males, ruinas y desolaciones que sobrevengan a nuestra común y afligida patria, junto con el exterminio de todos los honores y privilegios, quedando esclavizados junto con los demás engañados españoles y sometidos al dominio francés; pese a todo lo cual se confía que todos, como verdaderos hijos de la patria, amantes de la libertad, acudan a los lugares señalados a fin de derramar gloriosamente su sangre y su vida por su Rey, por su honor, por la patria y por la libertad de toda España [...].

    Several times this speech mentions Spain as the nation and the fatherland.

    5. The following is a popular song, played in Gerona (Catalonia), in 1809, during the Independence War against the Napoleonic army: "Digasme tu, Girona, si te n'arrendiràs [...] ,-¿Com vols que m'arrendesca, si Espanya no vol pas?" Again Spain is referred to as a leitmotif.

    6. In 1885, in the Memorial de Greuges (Memorial de Agravios o Grievance Memorial), a fundational Catalonian document presented before Alfonso XII, in 1885, Jacint Verdaguer, Àngel Guimerà and Valentí Almiral, among other Catalonian politicians, expressed the following: "No tenemos, Señor, la pretensión de debilitar, ni mucho menos atacar la gloriosa unidad de la patria española; antes por el contrario, deseamos fortificarla y consolidarla; pero entendemos que, para lograrlo, no es buen camino ahogar y destruir la vida regional para substituirla por la del centro, sino que entendemos que lo conveniente, al par que justo, es dar expansión, desarrollo y vida espontánea y libre a las diversas provincias de España para que de todas partes de la península salga la gloria y la grandeza de la nación española," again admiting the existence of Spain as a nation and fatherland.

    7. To conclude with these quotations, is worthwhile to mention another document by Joan Estelrich, in 1931, a congressman representing the Lliga Catalanista in the parliament, "La manera que tenemos nosotros de ser españoles es conservándonos catalanes [...], no nos despañolizamos ni un ápice manteniéndonos muy catalanes; en fin, la garantía de ser nosotros muy españoles consiste en ser muy catalanes. Porque lo contrario es ir contra la naturaleza"; literally, "the way of being Spaniards is being Catalonians."

    Of course, I cannot guarantee the legitimacy, authenticity or truthfulness and veracity of all the above-mentioned documents, but until the contrary is proven, I would say they are good testimonies of the concept of Spain being recognized as a nation, even by Catalonians many centuries ago.

    I'd like to finish this long post with a response to Jordi's judgment that I am incorrect with a statement I made earlier: "It seems pretty obvious that singular nations together are stronger than separated." I apologize to him for expressing a purely common-sense inspiration, although I do not agree with him.

    JE comments: What is Spain? Historical arguments cut both ways, as you could argue for the re-colonization of Mexico (or Cuba, or Venezuela) by citing the Spanish "identity" of 16th, 17th, or 18th-century colonials (and for Cuba, 19th century).  I tend towards a realist position on such matters: a nation exists when it says it does and has the ability to keep someone else from taking away its nationhood.  Then the nation is recognized as such by other nations.

    One powerful thing in Catalonia's favor is its language, which is one of the fundamental tenets of national identity--at least for the "modern" concept of nationalism that arose in the early 19th century.

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    • What is Spain? What is Catalonia? Some Historical Questions (Jordi Molins, Spain 09/26/14 1:41 AM)
      José Ignacio Soler (24 September) gave several historical examples of Catalans arguing positively about Spain.

      Probably, the most compelling and famous one is the speech by Rafael Casanova, during the defense of Barcelona against the Castilian siege: "To spill his blood and his life gloriously, by his King, by his honor, for the Fatherland and Freedom in Spain."

      It would be surreal if the highest political representative of a region, when fighting a war against an enemy (with a high likelihood of defeat and further extermination, which is what happened), would ask to fight in defense of the freedom... of the enemy!

      It seems clear Casanova was referring to something else rather than what we now understand as Spain. What could that be? As argued, it is difficult to use modern political concepts to explain the actions of people living centuries ago. Having said that, and knowing the limitations of the exercise, let me try:

      As described in previous emails, Catalonia had traditionally enjoyed political structures which acted as "checks and balances" against the power of the King. For example, the Catalan Parliament and Constitution are about seven centuries old. The King did not enjoy an absolutist power (as opposed to Castile, where "La palabra del Rey es Ley"; "The word of the King is Law").

      In fact, before the 1714 Catalan defeat, Castile, being stronger than Catalonia, tried in different ways to conquer Catalonia. For example, during the Reapers' War (part of the European Thirty Years' War), Castile used the period when its troops crossed through Catalonia to fight France, in order to extract concessions from Catalonia.

      As a consequence, Catalonia saw Castile as a potential enemy, trying to destroy the freedoms enshrined in the Catalan Constitution and Catalan Government (Generalitat), with a move towards absolutism (as it happened).

      So, when Casanova was using the term "Spain," most likely he was using the concept of "Españas" (as described in a previous email by John Eipper), which in modern terms could be described as a "confederation," that is the Crown was seen as a loose and positively reinforcing relationship among Nations (each with their own language, currency, army, law, etc.). But most importantly, Spain was not seen as a Nation itself, but as a Crown, and in general, as the main custodian of "tradition." So, "España" was a way to defend the Catalan institutions and law (in opposition to the risk of losing those political structures if Castile won, which is what happened), which were seen as the most important parts of the "tradition."

      But it seems obvious to me that "España" as used by Casanova had nothing to do with the modern concept of Spain. In fact, it was the complete opposite.

      By the way, maybe the Spanish historians of WAIS will be delighted to know that the biggest Catalan Unionist organization, SCC (the one which could only gather about 2,000 Unionists on September 11, but appears everywhere in the Spanish media, and even meets Spanish President Rajoy) is going to publish its first book, under "Galland Books":


      Galland Books specializes in military books, mostly during the Francoist period. One cannot overlook the one titled Spanish Soldiers during the Third Reich. I also find quite revealing the banner at the bottom of the webpage, which goes to a well-known Francoist and neo-Nazi forum, memoriablau.es. I wonder if a relationship with such an extremist company would be accepted in other Western countries.

      JE comments:  Galland from the link above strikes me as a mainstream militaria publisher.  Its titles also include a book on the Lincoln Brigades, as well as two on Republican flying aces.

      Next up:  a further comment from José Ignacio Soler.

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      • War of Spanish Succession 1701-1714 (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 09/28/14 4:46 AM)
        Jordi Molins (26 September) comments on "several historical examples of Catalans arguing positively about Spain," which I had mentioned in a previous post.

        Jordi asserts: "Probably, the most compelling and famous one is the speech by Rafael Casanova, during the defense of Barcelona against the Castilian siege" in 1714, during the Succession War: "'To spill his blood and his life gloriously, by his King, by his honor, for the Fatherland and Freedom in Spain.'"

        Though it might be arguable whether this is the most compelling of the historical events I mentioned in my post, let´s focus in it.


        This historical episode is very interesting, not only because marked a crucial point in the history of Spain, but also for Europe. So for those interested in history, I highly recommend reading it.

        But the question I´d like to address is Jordi´s comment and conclusions. He states in reference to the quoted event: "It would be surreal if the highest political representative of a region, when fighting a war ... would ask to fight in defense of the freedom... of the enemy!"

        Maybe it should be remembered briefly that Catalonians were fighting for the succession rights as king of "Spain" for Carlos VI, Archduke of Austria, the Habsburg candidate, supported by Aragon (Catalonia was part of it), as opposed to Felipe V, the Bourbon candidate, supported by Castilians. Therefore the underlying questions is then, what was the cause the Catalonians were fighting for? Who was the enemy in this war? It was a civil war as well as European. What seems surreal are Jordi's conclusions.

        According to him, "It seems clear Casanova was referring to something else rather than what we now understand as Spain." Of course, Spain by the time of the war was not the same modern concept of a nation it is today, it is obvious; I agree with that.

        What is not clear at all is what Jordi seems to conclude. Let´s recall that the point in question debated, suggested by Jordi's previous posts, was not whether ancient, older, concepts or national models in Spain are still in force, but if Spain as a nation ever existed!

        JE comments: Do I understand correctly that Catalonian historiography sees the War of the Spanish Succession as a proto-independence movement?  The war had all the trappings of a World War, with fighting taking place even in the Americas (Queen Anne's War). 

        I'll sound anachronistic, but the secular pragmatist in me just cannot understand how so many would be eager to die for Charles (or for Philip).

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