A Brief History of the Catalan Independence Movement

Catalonia is a region in Northeastern Spain, known for the beach resorts of Costa Brava and the Pyrenees Mountains. Starting with its location, it feels distinctly different from the rest of Spain; and its four provinces boast of wealth and natural splendor: these include Barcelona, Tarragona, Girona, and Lleida. Though you may not be familiar with the region of Catalonia (“Catalunya” in their native Catalan tongue), you’re probably familiar with their capital city—Barcelona. Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia as Madrid is the capital of all of Spain.

Catalan is the co-official language of Catalonia, which is actually not a subset of Spanish. Of course, both share some similarities as latin root languages.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the region of Catalonia is that they don’t consider themselves as a part of Spain, and have wanted to split from Spain: with intentions that date back to long before Spain started having financial woes.

Differences between Catalonia and Spain

Here’s what you need to know about the differences between the Catalonia region and the country of Spain as a whole:

  • Language: People in Catalonia speak both Catalan and Spanish and will address you in Catalan even if you talked to them in Spanish or if they understood your Spanish. Catalan is used in government proceedings & is their official language. The use of Catalan came into play after years of repression during General Francisco Franco’s term.
  • Food: Spain is known for dishes and ingredients such as paella and chorizo, while Catalan food is more French-inspired, incorporating seafood whenever possible. They are more well-associated with butifarra, a cinnamon pork sausage, and fideuas, a type of noodle.
  • Opinions: While the rest of Spain continues the practice of bullfighting into modern times, the Catalan people in Barcelona turned their bullring into a mall. They’re not about that life.
  • Cultural perception: As a general rule, Catalans are seen as more business minded and hardworking, while Spanish people are seen as more fun-loving.

They even have different traditions for drinking wine:

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A Brief History of the Catalan Independence Movement

The Catalan independence movement is said to have started in 1922, when Francesc Macia founded the Estat Catalan (Catalan State). In 1931, the Republican Left of Catalonia was formed and won in the municipal elections that year.

Macia proclaimed a Catalan Republic, but after negotiations with the Spanish Republic, accepted autonomy within the Spanish state. General Francisco Franco abolished autonomy after the Spanish Civil War in 1938, and after Franco’s death in 1975, authorities focused on autonomy rather than independence.

The independence movement resurged in 2010 when the 2006 Statute of Autonomy was challenged in the Spanish High Court of Justice, which ruled that there is no legal basis for recognizing Catalonia as a nation within Spain. Protests led to demands for independence, especially since Catalonians believed that affluent Barcelona was “propping up” a financially-unstable Spain. To put this into perspective, consider the fact that Barcelona accounts for 18.8% of GDP, while Madrid accounts for 17.6%.

In 2014, the Catalan government held a referendum on the question of statehood. They held an informal poll that asked Catalans if they wanted independence and the answer was a resounding yes (80%). However, only 2.2 million people voted, out of 5.4 million, and the Spanish government and Constitutional Court considered the decision as illegal.

Criminal charges were filed against Artur Mas, the president of Catalonia, who authorized going ahead with the vote. They followed the Constitutional Court’s ruling, changed the vote to a “process of citizen participation”, and announced that it would be supervised by volunteers.The Spanish government appealed again to the Constitutional Court, which suspended the process pending the appeal—but the vote went ahead.

Mas was banned from holding public office for 2 years and fined. He was replaced by Carlos Puigdemont, who upon taking the oath of office, omitted the oath of loyalty to the king and the Spanish constitution—the first Catalan president to do so.

The next major vote on the issue will take place as a binding referendum on independence in October 2017. The Spanish government is claiming that it’s illegal, but Puigdemont has proclaimed that the referendum will happen regardless of whether or not they get consent from Spanish institutions.

The Fight for Catalan Independence Through Catalonia Flags

If you ever get the opportunity to visit the Catalonia region, you’ll see similar but different flags displayed all over the place in public. Catalans are certainly not shy about making their political opinions.

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Let’s take a look at the different types of Catalan independence flags you’ll probably see if you visit the region, and their associated meanings:

La Senyera: the Official Flag of Catalonia

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La Senyera literally translates to “flag” in Catalan, but this is usually the flag people refer to when they use this word.

The official La Senyera is one of the oldest flags in Europe, and stories say that the flag dates back to the 11th Century and to the Counts of Barcelona.

The flag carries the same red stripe on golden background design that is on the coat of arms of the Crown of Aragon that ruled areas in the Mediterranean during the Medieval period in Spain.

La Estelada (blava)

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La Estelada is the most prevalent flag you will see in Barcelona. The flag features the same red and yellow stripes as La Senyera but also has a blue triangle with a white star in the middle. Estelada means “starry” in Catalan.

The flag is used by nationalists to symbolize the desire for independence of Catalonia. It is said to have first appeared in 1904, inspired by Cuban independence.

Here’s the Cuban flag, for reference:


The movement for Catalan independence can be dated back to the end of the War of Spanish Succession, where the region succeeded in forming an early day unified Spain.

La Estalada (vermella)

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Similar to the white-starred flag above, this flag instead is red-starred and has a yellow triangle instead of blue. It also represents a desire for Catalan independence—the difference lies in the political stance it represents. This flag was adopted by leftist groups in the 70s to symbolize a socialist independence movement of all Catalan-speaking areas.

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Catalan Independence: What’s Next?

The topic of Catalan independence is currently up for a referendum/vote on October 1, so we’ll see what happens.

If you agree with the Catalans and their quest for independence, show your support in tank top form. We think this Catalan independence tank gets the point across pretty well:

Unisex/Men's Catalonia Independence Tank Top


What do you think about the Catalan people and their quest for independence from Spain? We’d love to hear your thoughts! Tweet at @tanksgetaround, and we’ll share the most interesting insights.

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