Toni Strubell i Trueta


octubre 27
The struggle for home rule in Ireland was to have a considerable influence on Catalonia in the second half of the 19th Century. Although the effective politization of nationalism in Ireland was a much earlier phenomenon than its equivalent in Catalonia, it being hard to find Catalan equivalents for figures such as Molyneux, Wolfe Tone or Grattan, the Irish emanipation movement -especially the activity of Parnell- did help to trigger off significant developments. The reasons for this delay are multiple and may largely be put down to the lack of a formal parliamentary system, the three dynastic Civil Wars that disrupted the century, and, last but not least, to the suppression of all Catalan government institutions by Philip V, who granted absolute supremacy to the Council of Castile, as of 1714. In my opinion, these elements, as well as the absence of the political catalyst that religion played in Ireland, all made for a less fertile setting for an earlier Catalan political awakening. All that remained after 1714, or apparently so, was the intermitent appearance of political pamphlets and residual guerrilla operations in a period when few imagined that the Catalan nation could ever recover its former political status. In this sense it is significant that one of the first poets to recover Catalan as a cultivated language, Joaquim Rubió i Ors, was to proclaim that Catalan literature had been brought back to life in a way that Catalan politics never would or could be. A mindframe doubtless reflected in the apolitical and largely culturalist leanings of early mainstream Catalanism. Between the 1860s and the end of the Century, however, there is a slow recovery of national awareness, despite the initial reluctance of mainstream conservatives to meddle in politics. What greatly helped to change this situation was the loss of prestige suffered by the Spanish two-party system, principally motivated by the blow taken with the independence of Cuba in 1898. The exemple of other political events, such as the German and Italian unification processes or nationalist and federalist developments in Bohemia, Greece or Switzerland, was also important in spurring on the appearance of Catalanism as a political option. And it is arguably the exemple of the Irish emancipation movement that did most to progressively encourage it, especially in its more radical and theoretical formulations. What some may find surprising to find though, is that it was a Federalist Republican, rather than a strict Catalanist, who was to be principal propagator of the Irish model. His name was Josep Narcís Roca i Ferreras, whom I shall from now on refer to as “Roca”. Born in 1834, Roca was a pharmacist, though he was very active as a political analyst and journalist. He was never to be an influential politician, and never stood for office nor held posts in any party of the period. However, he did make a major contribution to the Catalan emancipation movement in the form of a large volume of articles appearing in several of Barcelona’s major papers and periodicals. Written largely in the 1870s and 1880s, these articles qualify him as the first and most solid theorist of the recovery of a Catalan Republic, very much along Irish lines. Roca, however, was not the first Catalan to write about Ireland. As far back as 1866, Joan Mañé i Flaquer –a radical liberal, later to be long-standing editor of Diari de Barcelona– had approached the Irish conflict in a Madrid periodical. Though sympathetic to the autonomist movements that were beginning to command influence in Ireland, Mañe i Flaquer at no time advocated secession as a solution to the question. Nor indeed did his articles speculate on Ireland as a model for Catalonia. More explicit in his political sympathies were the articles of Francesc Romaní i Puigdengolas in the 1880s. A lawyer, banker and politician, Romaní had a clear commitment to the idea of Catalonia as a nation. He writes about Ireland as a valid model for the autonomist and federalist cause in Catalonia. The novelty Roca represents, as an observer of the Irish political scene in the 1880s, is twofold. On the one hand, he openly and increasingly advocated Irish statehood, in contrast with most contemporary orthodox Catalanists, who were clearly not separatist. And, on the other hand, in the last seven years of his life, he indulges in a singular campaign to bring on active Catalan commitment and support for the developments occurring during Parnell’s leadership. Yet, what makes Roca’s contribution particularly relevant is the fact that he highlighted Parnell’s policies as a direct model for Catalan emancipation. With wide respect across the board as a progressive analyst, he was able to inform readers of events in Ireland in two mainstream Barcelona Spanish-language newspapers, El Diluvio and La Publicidad, neither of which were consistently or primarily Catalanist. It was on the front pages of these and other Barcelona papers that Roca spread the word about events in Ireland. It is reasonable to suppose that many Barcelona-based readers, nationalist or not, must have had access to the Irish issue through Roca’s articles. In this sense, he was probably the first columnist to familiarize them with terms such as “home-rulers”, “boycott” or “self-government”. When establishing a chronology for the eruption of Catalan interest in Ireland, particularly through Roca’s articles, the mid-1880s are clearly a starting point. Key political achievements in Parnell’s campaign for home rule coincide with significant –though distinctly lower-key events in Catalonia. The first Catalanist Congresses had taken place in 1880 and 1883. The Republican Federalists and orthodox Catalanists had now reinitiated legal activity after the repression exerted by the Spanish authorities after the Bourbon restoration of 1875. And an ambitious Catalanist association, the Centre Català, or Catalan Centre, had been founded in 1882 to unite and defend the “moral and material interests” of all Catalans. In 1885, this movement presented a Memorandum of Grievances before King Alfonso XII, calling for administrative, judicial and cultural reforms not too dissimilar to, though not as ambitious as, Parnell’s own. 1886 is to be the year that things come to a head, with the famous Novetats Theatre Meeting in July, sometimes considered one of the key moments in the political birth of Catalan nationalism. And one in which Roca played a central role. Here it is our objective to see how Ireland was to become Catalonia’s clearest model for nationalist politics by way of the writings and activities of Roca and his group. The most noteworthy of which, as we shall see, will doubtless be the presentation of the famous Manifesto, “Message to the Irish”, in the Spring of 1886. Despite the 1886 defeat of the Home-Rule Bill in the House of Commons, Roca presents the whole episode as a “triumph” in a good many articles centred on the question. He sees that the very presentation of the Bill at Westminster meant that the emancipation of Ireland had taken a centre-stage position in British politics. Thus, in December 1886, Roca writes about the “great triumph in our day of the cause of regional independence and nationalism in Ireland”. Significantly, in his articles, he regularly refers to Parnell as the “Washington of Ireland”. For Roca, Parnell’s political success was enabled by the existence of freedom of press and other political rights in the United Kindgom, on all scores superior to those in Spain. Let us remember that in 1878 and 1886, Roca himself was to suffer emprisonment and criminal prosecution for two of his articles. Roca also constantly praises the generosity and statesmanship of Gladstone. He stresses once again the need there is for Spain to come up with a Gladstone of her own, so that the Catalan question may be solved. One article is indeed titled: “Who will be Spain’s Gladstone”? a question that, incidentally, seems to have met with no answer 129 years along the line. Yet it is to be the social ingredient to Parnell’s politics that is be the recurrent and major target for Roca’s attention and praise. He clearly perceives that Parnell’s success stems from his intensive social involvement in the Land League and the struggle against evictions and landowner abuse. The main message behind Roca’s Irish articles is that, without the kind of social agenda driving Ireland’s successful home-rulers, Catalan nationalists will fail to become influential. In one 1887 article he writes: “Irish nationalists, far from limiting their scope to political, juridical, or philological affairs, which only interest the middle class, have reached out to the popular classes, to the disinheritted who own nothing, to the serfs suffering the abuse of the gentry, and the Irish Fourth Estate, on seeing that the issue was not exclusively political, juridical or linguistic”. Which is surely a dig at the mainstream Catalanists and their excessively cultural approach to the whole Catalan question. Roca also repeatedly harps on the effects that the failure to interest the Catalan popular classes in the nationalist cause would have. In one 1887 article he proclaims: “if the people do not raise the building, if they fail to back the cause, and regard it with indifference, even though it may be benevolent, our cause will fail to take off.” Roca not only insists on the need to adopt the Irish model, but also stresses the exemplary and unique nature of the Irish struggle for home-rule. In another article called “The Irish people”, in May 1887, he says: “One of the characteristics that distinguishes Ireland from other moviments of regional vindication, is the active and major role that is played there by the popular classes... both in the city and in the rural districts”. This latter quote is taken from an article which appeared in a monographic edition, on Ireland, of the periodical L’Arch de Sant Martí, the Rainbow. It was to be the first and foremost Catalan language media for the propagation of Catalanism and Roca’s ideas in the 1880s. It was to be instrumental, and radically committed, to the introduction of the Irish question in Catalonia. Roca’s article goes on to underline the confidence the Irish have in the home-rule leaders, a feature that contrasts to the situation in Catalonia, where he defines contemporary political representatives as mere “State party slaves”. Despite the defeat the Home Rule Bill has suffered, he feels that, and I quote , “the Irish cause is triumphant even as it is defeated because support for it is not limited to the more enlightened and culturally aware part of the middle class, but rather embraces the whole country”. For Roca, Ireland is therefore the laboratory where the model for national emancipation he defends is most clearly being applied. Using terminology that smacks of the French Revolution, but which also takes us back to the Catalan resistance of 1714, he insists it is to be the arm -or “braç”- of the Fourth Estate, that must head the struggle. “Glory to the Irish people, strong arm of the nation and solid broad-based foundation of the national cause... A similar glory is deserved by the Catalan people who must support and raise with their mighty arms, the cause of the vindication, personality and autonomy of the nation. Without the popular classes, our home-rulers will gain nothing”. In return, though, he claims that the popular classes too, will continue to be slaves, if they do not embrace the cause of national emancipation. If they did so, he adds, they would be disregarding an age-old tradition. Ireland is the model to ensure that both steps are taken. A series of nine articles follow on the Irish issue in L’Arch de Sant Martí. Along with others in Spanish language media with larger editions, the articles in this periodical provide the Catalan moviment with fresh insights into the Irish issue. In November, one article expresses Roca’s concern about leadership shortcomings. Neither does he see Spain capable of producing a Gladstone to chaperone the Catalan cause, nor does he see the Catalan cause capable yet of producing the kind of leadership Parnell and O’Brien stand for in Ireland. He also provides information on the evictions of tenant farmers and the parliamentary and street actions aimed at countering them. Roca’s identification with the Irish struggle becomes so intense that in the Spring of 1888 he actually declares himself to be an Irishman, refusing to consider the Irish as foreigners. “We hereby exclude Ireland from the concept of being foreign. Ireland is no longer a foreign country for us. For us (Catalan) home-rulers, Ireland is now the Catalonia of the United Kingdom.” In February 1888, he even goes as far to say that L’Arch de Sant Martí is now an Irish periodical. The religious question in Ireland is one which especially attracts Roca’s attention. Himself a confirmed atheist, he insists on informing his readers that the Irish moviment must by no means be associated with religious fanaticism. He also points out the constant insistence there is in Ireland on the question of civil rights and personal freedom would dismiss the insinuations of Spanish unionists, who try and smear the Irish movement with the accusation of religious fanaticism. Roca dispells this by assuring that the creation of national institutions of self-government will reinforce civil rights in Ireland. In one article he stresses: “...It is not the clergy that is urging for autonomy or revolution. It is the common people who are putting pressure on the Church to follow the national cause”. Roca insists that the official Catholic Church will never raise a finger to favour the Irish cause if by so doing it will offend what he calls the “Protestants of Westminster”. Roca informs in his articles of the Tory bid to make the Pope forbid Catholic priests from supporting the Land League. As I mentioned before, the culminating moment for the introduction of the Irish issue in the Catalan debate came in the Spring of 1886 with the presentation of the Manifesto “The Message to the Irish”. L’Arch de Sant Martí, doubtless inspired by Roca, launched the idea of addressing a letter of support to Parnell. The short message wished to show sympathy for the Irish cause, in the hope that one day the Irish might also send the Catalans a similar kind of message. Over six thousand Catalans, of all the social and geographical adscriptions, signed the Manifesto. The repercussion of the gesture is doubtless proven by the fact that Edward O’Sikley’s answer to the Catalans, on Parnell’s behalf, was reproduced in thirty-six Catalan, Spanish and French periodicals of the period. It is to be a prelude to a period of Catalan nationalism in which the Irish model was to be an increasingly relevant point of reference. In the short-term, helping to provide models for national emancipation. Even in apparently off-centre issues. One particular area Roca shows interest in is the strengthening of political links with Catalan settlers in America -as the Irish Republican Brotherhood had been doing with Irish emigrés since 1858- an iniciative that had immediate repercussions amonst Catalans in Uruguay and Cuba, and later in Argentina and elsewhere. This concern -incidentally- even went as far as to investigate the somewhat extravagant possibility of copying a Chicago Irish community idea of setting up an Irish state in America. In conclusion, we may say that the mark Parnell’s emancipation movement made on Catalonia, as propagated by Roca and others, was significant and multifaceted. We may measure it, on the one hand, in the widespread impact Terence MacSwiney’s death had in 1920 –when thousands came out in the streets to show their support for him- but also in more anecdotic questions such as the appearance of a radical group called Nosaltres Sols – Sinn Fein, in 1931, or attempts to create a stable armed unit in the 20s. However, it is unquestionably in the genesis and politics of the movement led by Francesc Macià, who in 1931 was elected President of Catalonia, that we can confirm that the Irish model was to have a lasting and deeply engraved influence on the Catalan emancipation movement and its polítics.

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