Politics 05/11/2021

The day that Juan Carlos I worked (unknowingly) for the self-determination of Catalonia

The Parliament commemorates the 50th anniversary of the birth of the Assembly of Catalonia

3 min
Act of homage to the Parliament of the 50th anniversary of the Assembly of Catalonia

BarcelonaThey went in with those attending the first mass of the morning in the church of Sant Agustí in Barcelona and left accompanying those attending the last afternoon mass. The ideal camouflage that had been prepared that Sunday, 7 November 1971, for the birth of the Assemblea de Catalunya, the platform that for six years brought together political parties, trade unions, social movements and intellectuals from all ideological spectrums in the anti-Franco struggle. But that camouflage might not have been enough. A few months earlier a similar attempt in another Barcelona church had ended up failing due to police action. That Sunday, however, it had to be different and the promoters of the meeting in the church of Sant Agustí had a triumph on their hands. The Francoist police, always ready to repress the democratic movement, had other concerns that day, among them a very special one: the protection of the then Prince Juan Carlos I. The 7th November had not been chosen at random, but rather the founding meeting of the Assembly was timed to coincide with one of Juan Carlos' nautical regattas in Barcelona.

The journalist Antoni Batista is one of the most authoritative chroniclers of that political experience and this Friday he has been the first to speak in the 50th anniversary commemoration, carried out in the Catalan Parliament. The king emeritus's story is but one of the stories Batista narrates in his book The Great Conspiracy, which he co-authored with Josep Playà. He spoke in front of the painting by Antoni Tàpies that also commemorates the birth of the Assembly, and many more stories were told afterwards by their protagonists.

In one of these stories Miquel Sellarès represented the Associació de Veïns de la Sagrada Família within the Assembly. It was to cover up what he was really doing: liaising between the left-wing parties and Jordi Pujol, who "played both sides", as he himself has said, without giving up talking to those who were to take over from Franco when he was no longer there.

Another story tells of how Laura Tremosa was arrested in 1973 in the church of Santa Maria Mitjancera in Barcelona. She was one of 113 people arrested that day at another clandestine meeting of the Assemblea de Catalunya. Not denouncing her companions and maintaining they had been discussing an encyclical cost her a fine of 200.000 pesetas. She refused to pay it and was sent to prison for three months. As she was a repeat offender – "she honked her horn along Balmes Street", the police statement said – she presented herself days later at the Via Laietana police station to be re-arrested along with dozens of "repeat offenders". "Come back at half past three, we can't do it now", the policeman who was standing guard at the door answered them.

In Joan Reventós's house in El Vendrell, one of the many preparatory meetings for the Assemblea took place, Joan Vallbé recalled this Friday. For Elisabet Mas, the most important thing about all those meetings was that "everyone had the right to speak and to give their opinion on everything" and often consensus was achieved or, an even more precious trophy, a change the opinion of those who seemed to be very sure.

Consensus and unity

Mas was one of the people in charge of acting as a bridge between the president of the Generalitat in exile, Josep Tarradellas, and the Assembly of Catalonia. "It was not easy, but exiles and internal opposition had to go together. I'm talking about 50 years ago...", Batista pointed out, noting the similarities between that time and the present. He was not the only one to highlight the validity of the four founding points of the Assembly (amnesty, fundamental rights, self-determination and unity), which Maria Josep Arenós read out. Sellarès regretted that fifty years ago, very different political traditions were able to define a joint strategy, but now this seems to be a chimera. Also today, according to him, there are no longer the people with "moral authority" that there were then, such as Pere Portabella, Antoni Gutiérrez Díaz and Josep Benet, among many others. The past was always better, as popular wisdom would say.

The event was closed by ombudsman Rafael Ribó, who, in fact, was its promoter, and Speaker Laura Borràs. Both insisted on values such as unity and consensus to move the country forward. "If only today we could spend hours and hours, days and days, whatever it took to find a consensus as we did in the assembly", said Ribó. On what? The four founding points of 1971 would be a good starting point.