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History of Ibiza
by Emily Kaufman

The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939)
An Overview: XII

Spanish Wars

Hello and welcome to the history page. After a slight detour last week into the rich history of Catalonia and its millenarian tradition of self-government - initially as a confederation of independent counties and later as a principality within successively larger states - we will now return to our regular narrative. We had been discussing the Catalan Statue of Autonomy, one of the most successful, albeit controversial, reforms instituted by the Azaña administration during its first year at the helm of the Second Republic. Despite the fact that Franco abolished the entire political oeuvre of the Republic when he came to power, the implementation of Catalan autonomy is held to be a success on the grounds that, unlike the Agrarian Reform, it survived the reactionary backlash of the Black Biennium. Indeed, Catalan autonomy remained fully effective until the end of the civil war in 1939.

Ready and Waiting

By the early 1930s, every nerve and fiber of Catalan society was geared for the imminent resumption of self-government within the larger Spanish state - as had been their custom in days of yore. If we recall the Pact of San Sebastián (a republican coalition formed in 1930 directly prior to the proclamation of the new regime), we will remember that one significant outcome of these talks was the agreement that Catalonia be granted its autonomy once the Republic became effective. True to the stipulations of the Pact, in the summer of 1931, a plebiscite was held in Catalonia in order to gauge public sentiment on the matter. The results were virtually unanimous with 97% of the electorate voting in favour of autonomy. Despite grave reservations in the rest of Spain regarding the issue, Azaña felt honour-bound to make good on the San Sebastián promise, subsequently reaffirmed by the plebiscite. To this end, he delivered an impassioned speech which succeeded in winning over a landslide majority of parliament members, many of whom had previously been skeptical as to the sagacity of the statute. Azaña argued that:

“… [Primo de Rivera’s] dictatorship tried to treat, and did treat, the Catalan national sentiment with violence, with oppression, with persecution … and, at the same time that it did this in Catalonia … it did the same with Spanish civil liberties. Is it in any way remarkable or extraordinary that [both movements] have been reborn together? … The result, naturally, is that Catalan autonomists have put their utmost faith in the Spanish Republic, identifying for the first time a local and provincial cause with a greater Spanish cause … for which reason, this regime holds up as a primordial concern in the organization of State… that which, until now, has been a local problem of Catalan nationalism …” (Delivered in Parliament on 12th May 1932)

Autonomy in Practice

The practical organization of the pre-Franco Catalan government was quite similar to that subsequently adopted by the remainder of Spanish autonomies (Ibiza included) that were constituted after the dictator’s death. One cannot help but note that, as usual, Catalonia was well ahead of the times, in the sense that the concept of political autonomy, so revolutionary in the 1930s, is now an accepted mundane reality, a political right freely exercised by each of Spain’s seventeen autonomies.

The Catalan government ruled over its four provinces (Barcelona, Tarragona, Lérida and Gerona) by means of a political organism known as the Generalitat, an institution created in medieval times, resuscitated in 1932, and still in use today. The Generalitat was (and is) divided into three branches of power represented by a president, an executive council and a parliament, whose representatives also held seats in the central parliament in Madrid. The executive council was divided into consellerías or ‘departments’ (analogous to the ministries in Madrid) which determined local policies in matters of internal revenue, economy, education, culture, health, transport, communications and public order; while, the areas of foreign affairs, national defense, border control, etc. remained under the competency of the central government. Potential onflicts arising from the overlap of central and autonomous authority would be arbitrated by the Tribunal of Constitutional Guarantees. Also enormously significant for the people of these lands was the fact that, for the first time since 1714, Catalan was accepted as the official language of government as well as the autonomy as a whole.

The first Catalan elections held in 1932 saw the victory of the left-wing republican factions that had rallied for and obtained the Statute of Autonomy. Francesc Macià, lifelong champion of the Catalan cause, returned from exile at the age of 72 to assume a swansong presidency of the Generalitat, being succeeded upon his death in 1933 by Lluis Companys.

Basque-Navarro Dichotomies

The Basques and Navarros also possessed a strong independent streak; however, fundamental ideological differences prevented them from achieving political autonomy during the Second Republic. The first attempt at drafting a Statute of Basque-Navarro Autonomy took place in 1931 when the conservative and profoundly Catholic PNV (Nationalist Basque Party) met with Navarra’s reactionary Carlist Party, a monarchical faction advocating the return of absolutism. Among other privileges and liberties, the resulting bill upheld the region’s right to deal directly with the Vatican, unfettered by ecclesiastic mediation from any of Spain’s bishoprics. Not surprisingly, the socialist and republican sectors of Basque society dismissed the proposed statute as retrogressive.

A second attempt at achieving autonomy was temporarily delayed due to the withdrawal of Basque-Navarro representatives from parliament, in protest against the anticlerical legislation instituted by the Azaña administration. A year later, on 19th June1932, local elections were held to determine the level of acceptance of a new version of the statue. Of the Basque Country’s three provinces, two (Biscay and Guipúzcoa) voted in favour of the proposed statute, while Álava’s urns produced a tie. Navarra, the centre of monarchical resistence, rejected the proposal altogether, refusing to negotiate with an ‘atheist’ republic.

At this juncture, Navarra began to distance itself from the Basque nationalists, who sought autonomy within the Republic, insisting instead that Navarra’s traditional charters - abolished in the early 18th century like those of Catalonia - be reinstated. At least they were never denied the right to run with bulls! Although, how this custom fits in with the region’s extreme Catholicism is rather baffling. At any rate, Navarra’s migration away from Basque nationalism soon caused the ultra-right Carlists to politically realign with the more prevalent brand of monarchists, i.e. those who advocated the return of Alfonso XIII - who, while not an absolute monarch was, at least, a monarch. As we shall see in future inst! alments, the combined support of these monarchical factions proved instrumental in Franco’s grab for power.


A year later, a third ill-fated attempt to establish Basque autonomy was obstructed by the rise to power of the conservative Black Biennium (1933-1935). Join us next week as we soldier on to explore the Azaña administration’s drastic curtailment of military and clerical power in Spain.

Emily Kaufman