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The republican Government of Catalonia, 1931-1939

The events of April 1931 resulted in the provisional establishment of the Government of Catalonia, headed by President Francesc Macià. It consisted of a council or government; an assembly of representatives of the municipalities (known as the Provisional Council of the Government of Catalonia); and a series of commissioners who, as representatives of the government, were responsible for the services provided by the abolished Provincial Councils of Girona, Tarragona and Lleida. Meanwhile, the Provincial Council of Barcelona—and its offices at Plaça Sant Jaume—once again became the main base of autonomous power in Catalonia. Towards the end of 1932, when the Statute had been approved and the Parliament had been elected, the permanent Government of Catalonia was established, Francesc Macià was chosen as President and Lluís Companys was named President of Parliament. When Macià died on 25 December 1933, Companys became the president of the Government and would remain in power until the end of the Spanish Civil War, except for the period from October 1934 to February 1936, when the Statute was suspended. Joan Casanovas succeeded Companys as President of Parliament and would remain in office until October 1938 (except for the same period of suspension), at which time Josep Irla occupied the post.

The Interior Statute of Catalonia of 25 May 1933 established the basic autonomous institutions and the relationships between them. It also created the Executive council, headed by the President of the Government—or by a First Minister, as a delegate of the President—and composed of the ministers that would lead the Government’s different ministries. Because of the major upheavals of the 1930s, the expected transfer of powers had not been completed by the time the Government of Catalonia was abolished in 1939. From the very beginning, however, the state’s economic contributions for financing the transferred services were slow and always insufficient. The deficit therefore had to be offset by extraordinary contributions by the municipalities.

In early 1934, the most important laws regarding the organisation of the new Catalonia came into being. The transfer of law-enforcement services, which made it possible to eliminate the civil governors (January 11), led to the creation of the Security Committee of Catalonia, which coordinated the activities of the autonomous region and the state in this area. In accordance with the stipulations of the Statute, the Court of Review was created, with jurisdiction over civil and administrative matters controlled by the autonomous region. The Court consisted of one chairperson and twelve judges and had two courtrooms: the civil courtroom, responsible for applying Catalan civil law; and the contentious-administrative courtroom, responsible for defending the rights of citizens with respect to the government. In the area of education, the Government followed in the footsteps of the Commonwealth and promoted initiatives that went beyond the powers transferred by the central government. Another political front opened by the Government of Catalonia was territorial organisation and local-system reforms, with a municipal law that covered the aspirations of the municipalist movement.

On 4 October 1934, a republican government was formed that allowed the entrance of an anti-republic, anti-autonomy organisation. Two days later, President Companys unilaterally declared a “Catalan State of the Spanish Federal Republic”, but the uprising was aborted the same day by the captain general of Catalonia. Companys was ousted and imprisoned in an atmosphere of severe repression. From October 1934 to February 1936, with the Statute suspended, the office of the President of the Government was occupied by individuals appointed by the central government with the title of governors-general of Catalonia. After the Popular Front emerged victorious in the election of 16 February 1936, the suspension of the Statute was lifted. Companys was released from prison and returned to his post as President of the Government. On 18 July, a failed military uprising in Catalonia was immediately followed by a revolutionary outburst against the authority of the Government of Catalonia. Forces backed by the National Workers’ Confederation (CNT) imposed a Central Committee of Anti-fascist Militias, which acted as an authentic government power for the next several months. In September 1936, a coalition government was formed with leftist forces under the leadership of First Minister Josep Tarradellas. On October 24, the government issued a decree legalising revolutionary activities and attempted to re-establish a certain degree of normality. The events of May 1937 held up the revolution, and republican forces focused their activity on the war. As one of the last bastions of legality, Catalonia was forced to allow the central government to operate from its territory, which interfered with the powers of the Government of Catalonia. The situation became increasingly abnormal and desperate in the period leading up to the military victory of the rebels.

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