In English Voices From Spain

The lie about Catalonia’s 131 presidents.

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Originally published in Spanish. ‘La mentira de los 131 presidentes de la Generalitat’ Patricia R. Blanco. El País.

20th May 2018

Quim Torra is the tenth Catalan president, an office created in 1931, not in 1359 as nationalist story tells.

Almost all of Spanish media have assumed that Quim Torra is the 131st president of the Generalitat. The recently proclaimed Catalan leader would join, according to this story, a centuries-old institution created in 1359 by Berenguer de Cruïlles, heir of an even more ancient medieval body, founded in 1289 and devoted to collect taxes. That medieval Generalitat, however, called “General Deputation”, had little to do – other than a name resemblance – with the current Generalitat, born during the Second Republic, and now led by Torra, who became its tenth president last Thrusday, not its one hundred and thirty first one.

“From a historical point of view, Quim Torra is the tenth president of the Generalitat, but there is a historiographic interpretation that considers him the 131st”, says Jaume Guillamet, a Doctor in Contemporary History and professor at the Pompeu Fabra University’s Department of Communication

In support of that view, the work “From Berenguer de Cruïlles to Jordi Pujol: the 125 presidents of the Generalitat” (Pagès, 2000), by Francesc Gordo Guarinos, argues that the Generalitat, regardless of evolution along centuries, was born in 1359. Nevertheless, according to Guillamet, “that long list of presidents is clearly interpretative, it’s a notion recovered by the former Catalan president Jordi Pujol, who built a political and historiographic discourse that has endured with time”. But the Generalitat, as it’s known today, started with “Francesc Macià in 1931, during the Second Republic”,

And “it was the republican government that suggested the name ‘Generalitat’ – not the nationalists – “, says Guillamet. “What Francesc Macià proclaimed the 14th April 1931 was the Catalan republic”, he goes on. Three days after, three ministers of the provisional government, among them the Catalan Lluís Nicolau d’Olwer and Marcelino Domingo, went to Barcelona. Macià was asked to abandon the idea of a Catalan republic different from the Spanish one, in exchange for “the elaboration of a Statute of Autonomy”. Macià accepted and the current Generalitat was born.  

“The ‘General Deputation has nothing to do, neither in its structure nor in the way it worked, with the current Generalitat”, explains José Luis Corral, professor of Medieval History at the University of Zaragoza and author, among other works, of “The Crown of Aragón: manipulation, myth and history” (Editorial Doce Robles, 2014). The General Deputation of the Middle Ages “was an institution created to collect taxes, and there were similar bodies in the kingdoms of Aragon and Valencia”, Corral states.

That institution born in the 14th Century, depending on the Catalan Courts, was comprised of three branches – church, military and civilian – and had a kind of permanent committee with governing functions, driven by what is now called “president of the Generalitat”. “That Generalitat lost powers during the Modern Ages, after the arrival of Charles V and the dynastic unification of the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon”, adds Corral, who believes that talking of a 131st president of the Generalitat is “an outright lie, pure presentism, that is, creating a fictitious idea from the present that projects to the most distant past.

We can speak, on the other hand, of the same Generalitat since 1931. “The first president was Francesc Macià, the second one was Lluìs Companys, and they were succeeded on exile by Josep Irla and Josep Tarradellas”, explains Jaume Guillamet. “Tarradellas went back to Spain on 1977”, keeping the post of president of the Generalitat, with the approval of Adolfo Suárez and king Juan Carlos I, who accepted this “historic continuity since 1931”, as the professor explains. This was written in a Government’s Decree that year.

After the approval of the Statute of Autonomy in 1979, Jordi Pujol and then Pasqual Maragall were elected. Under a new Statute passed in 2006, additional Catalan presidents were elected: José Montilla, Artur Mas and Carles Puigdemont. Quim Torra is, therefore, the tenth president.

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