Pere Aragonès / Marc Puig
Pere Aragonès / Marc Puig

Taking up the mantle from Catalonia’s Presidents Macià, Companys, Irla and Tarradellas, Pere Aragonès continues to make history for Esquerra Republicana, leading the country once again

Esquerra Republicana will once again preside over Catalonia’s Generalitat government. Pere Aragonès inherits the legacy of Francesc Macià, Lluís Companys, Josep Irla and Josep Tarradellas, former presidents of Catalonia’s Generalitat government for Esquerra Republicana, and is ready to lead the government, upholding the values of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity that have defined Esquerra Republicana throughout its 90 year history.

It is a historical moment. Recovering the transformational spirit of 1931, the year in which Esquerra Republicana was founded, Mr Aragonès means to lead a New Republican Generalitat that bravely faces social rescue and economic recovery, as well as the feminist and the environmental revolutions. And he is determined to achieve a democratic solution to the conflict with the Spanish state, based on an amnesty that will put an end to the general cause against independence, and conclude a referendum on self-determination.

The plans of the Aragonès government are ambitious and the context is exacting, but other presidents have also faced major challenges, and have done so with all the republican strength and determination passed down from generation to generation.

The 1930s: historic presidencies

The setting is April 14, 1931. After Esquerra Republicana wins the municipal elections in Catalonia, Francesc Macià becomes the president of the Barcelona’s Diputació, the provincial administration. From the balcony of the Generalitat Palace, he proclaims the Catalan Republic within a federation of Iberian republics, just hours before the proclamation of the Second Spanish Republic. It is agreed with the provisional Spanish government that the council formed in Barcelona will act as the government of the Generalitat, recovering the medieval designation.

 Francesc Macià proclaims the Catalan Republic within a federation of Iberian republics from the balcony of the Generalitat.
Francesc Macià proclaims the Catalan Republic within a federation of Iberian republics from the balcony of the Generalitat.

The main mission of the provisional Catalan government is to advance the drafting of a basic law for Catalonia, the Statute of Núria. The bill, approved by referendum, defines Catalonia as an autonomous state within the Second Spanish Republic. However, the Spanish Constitution, approved a little later, establishes an “integral state compatible with the autonomy of municipalities and regions,” so it is necessary to reform the Statute of Núria, finally enacted in 1932.

In the first Catalan elections after the approval of the Statute, Macià is elected president and he forms the first government of the Generalitat under the new Statute. He governs until he dies on Christmas day, 1933.

Having led the country at a momentous time, Macià – known as l’Avi, the Grandfather – is succeeded by another historic president, Lluís Companys. By that time, the Conservatives have come to power in Spain, and soon the Court of Constitutional Guarantees annulls a law legislated by the Catalan government that gives more rights to the rabassaires – tenant farmers – the Crop Contracts Law.

Faced with the regression by the Spanish right, on October 6, 1934 Companys proclaims the Catalan State within the Spanish Federal Republic, amidst the euphoria of the people in the Plaça de Sant Jaume, in front of the Generalitat Palace in Barcelona.

 President Companys returns to the Generalitat, acclaimed by the people, on March 1, 1936.
President Companys returns to the Generalitat, acclaimed by the people, on March 1, 1936.

Two days later, the Catalan government is imprisoned and home rule suspended. The army occupies and controls the Generalitat and the repression spreads to towns all over the country. In total, there are more than 7,000 political prisoners in Catalonia. Government ministers are tried and sentenced for rebellion to 30 years in prison.

Nevertheless, the instability of the reactionary Spanish government, which is immersed in several cases of corruption, ends up provoking snap elections in February 1936. Esquerra Republicana leads Catalonia’s Front d’Esquerres – the Front of the Left – obtaining an absolute majority, and so the political prisoners are released and the Government restored. On March 1, 1936, Lluís Companys exclaims from the Generalitat Palace: “We will suffer again, we will fight again, and we will win again!”

Exile and safeguarding the institutions

On January 23, 1939, when Franco’s forces are about to enter Barcelona, Companys flees with other members of the government to the north of the country and goes into exile in France, but in 1940 he is arrested by the Gestapo in La Baule-les-Pins in occupied France. He is deported to Madrid and then transferred to Montjuïc Castle in Barcelona to be subjected to a summary court-martial. He is put before a firing squad on October 15 at the age of 58. His last words are: “For Catalonia!”.

The third president of the Generalitat during the republic is Josep Irla. At that time he was the president of the Parliament of Catalonia and had also gone into exile in France. With the execution of President Companys, Irla automatically becomes the 124th President of Catalonia, though he would never put a foot in the Generalitat Palace as such.

 Bulletin of ‘La Humanitat’ of September 23, 1945
Bulletin of ‘La Humanitat’ of September 23, 1945

The first years of his mandate are adverse, in the midst of World War II, with the exiles in France in permanent jeopardy and lacking economic resources. In 1945, he appoints the underground government of the Generalitat in exile, made up of personalities like writer Carles Pi i Sunyer, grammarian Pompeu Fabra, journalist Antoni Rovira i Virgili, and poet and playwright Josep Carner.

The government maintains relations with the Catalans at home, and concerns itself with the situation of the Catalans in exile, while it publicises the situation in Catalonia internationally. However, in early 1948 the executive suffers a crisis and Irla dissolves it. One of his last tasks is the creation in 1950 of Catalan delegations in America.

When Irla resigns in 1954, the members of the Parliament of Catalonia meet at the embassy of the Spanish Republic in Mexico and elect Josep Tarradellas the new president of the Generalitat. He will have the priceless task of safeguarding the Catalan institutions in exile.

Tarradellas, until then Secretary General of Esquerra Republicana, and exiled first to Switzerland and then to France, was able to return to Catalonia on October 23, 1977, two years after Franco’s death. Received by a crowd in Barcelona Josep Tarradellas uttered his famous phrase “Citizens of Catalonia, I am here at last!” from the balcony of the Generalitat.

The Franco regime’s law of 1938 abolishing the Catalan institutions was repealed and Tarradellas was appointed president of the provisional Generalitat. He formed a national coalition government to draft a new Statute, which would be approved by referendum in 1979, and called elections to the Parliament of Catalonia in 1980. He died in Barcelona on June 10, 1988.

Pere Aragonès takes up the mantle

From that time on, Esquerra Republicana has formed part of several governments of the Generalitat: two progressive three-party coalitions, known as the Tripartits, between 2003 and 2010; the Junts pel Sí coalition government from 2015 to 2017, which made the independence referendum possible on October 1, 2017; and from 2018 to 2021, the government following the direct rule by Spain.

Since Oriol Junqueras and Marta Rovira took the reigns in 2011, the party has been adding membership from very different backgrounds, as the path for all those people who consider that the only way to build a better, fairer and freer society is to achieve the Catalan Republic. Esquerra has thus set itself on the path of ascendancy to become the party of reference in Catalonia once more.

And so, today, May 21, 2021, Esquerra returns to the presidency. After so many years, Pere Aragonès has finally taken the republican mantle of Macià, Companys, Irla and Tarradellas and continued to write the history of Esquerra Republicana in the presidency of the nation. Following a thread that also connects him with pioneers of republicanism like teacher Natividad Yarza, factory worker Justa Goicoechea, Consol Nogueras, Fidela Renom or Esperança Martí, the first democratically elected woman mayor and councillors in Catalonia.

We have a pro-independence and progressive president. Progressive and pro-independence. The 132nd president of Catalonia’s Generalitat, once again an Esquerra Republicana President

 Pere Aragonès & Oriol Junqueras, election night 14 February, 2021 / Marc Puig
Pere Aragonès & Oriol Junqueras, election night 14 February, 2021 / Marc Puig

And he comes to lead the first institution in the country, standing on the shoulders of giants, like the President of Esquerra, Oriol Junqueras, unjustly imprisoned, and the Secretary General, Marta Rovira, exiled in Geneva. He also stand on the shoulders of Parliamentary Speaker Carme Forcadell and Ministers Raül Romeva and Dolors Bassa, also imprisoned, and the Member of the Catalan Parliament Meritxell Serret who has recently returned from exile in Belgium.

The current situation is extremely difficult, but as Oriol Junqueras always says “we are the fruit of many defeats, but we are also the seed of all our victories.” And today is a clear victory: the victory of new republicanism against an outdated Spanish monarchy, of freedom against the repression perpetrated by the Spanish state, of progressivism against conservatism. A milestone that brings us closer to the final victory.