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The Illusion of Statehood

Perceptions of Catalan Independence up to the End of the Spanish Civil War

Arnau Gonzàlez i Vilalta is Professor at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, specializing in Catalan nationalism, the history of Spain and European diplomacy during the interwar period.

Enric Ucelay-Da Cal is Emeritus Professor at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona. His influential research and writings on Catalan nationalism and the history of late modern Spain have a deserved international audience.

In October 1936, as the Spanish Civil War turned a tension in peripheral Europe into a European disaster, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy signed a series of agreements detailing the need for “a common action … to prevent the creation and consolidation of a Catalan State”. The backdrop to the revolutionary charades, the self-evident dangers of “totalitarian states”, and the conservative enthusiasms of Franco’s “Spanish nationalists” lay in the potential of Catalonia seceding. What would be the internal and international implications?

The postwar world of 1919–1923 created political patterns that gave heart to many sub-state nationalisms – patterns that hardened into conflictual shape, especially after the rise of Hitler in early 1933. Contributors to the volume trace the convictions of journalists, observers and diplomats that a Catalan split-off was inevitable. But Catalan politics blew in quite another way, later reacting to Soviet dis-interest and British indecisiveness, amongst a host of other pressures. Placing Catalonia and the Catalan nationalist movement in the foreground of contemporary Spanish discourse reveals why present internal complexities require a historical dimension that takes into account early twentieth-century pan-European/ pan-international movements that supported or decried secession, albeit for widely differing nationalist motives. Not least were the perceived and feared reactions of minority populations, and the potential strategic geographic/diplomatic consequences for European leaders. In a way, the unfolding of antagonisms on the international and European scene led to the internal Spanish conflict. The Illusion of Statehood takes the reader away from the bluster of left/right politics and the potentialities of social revolution toward a better understanding of how Catalan independence was viewed by European states and powers. This thoughtfully argued book is essential reading for all historians and students of twentieth-century European history. It provides a much-needed reasoned perspective on the Catalan issue and its historical antecedents.

Published in association with the Cañada Blanch Centre for Contemporary Spanish Studies

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-78976-032-3
Hardback Price: £75.00 / $84.95
Release Date: December 2019
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-78976-034-7
Paperback Price: £29.95 / $39.95
Release Date: December 2019
Page Extent / Format: 320 pp. 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: Yes


Series Editor’s Preface by Paul Preston
Editor’s Preface
List of Abbreviations

Chapter 1:  How to Become Independent in Europe (and America) Before 1931: Upholding the Monarchy or Proclaiming a Republic?
Enric Ucelay-Da Cal

Chapter 2: Nationalities, Nations, States:  Models of the National Question in Europe in the 1930s
Xosé Manoel Núñez Seixas

Chapter 3: A Most  Uncomfortable  Issue: The Independence  of Catalonia  as  an  European  Geopolitical  Concern (1936–1939)
Arnau Gonzàlez I Vilalta

Chapter  4:, Catalonia, A Very Particular Nation from the Soviet Point of View
Josep Puigsech Farràs

Chapter 5: Josep Sánchez Cervelló, A Catalan Separate Peace During the Civil War? Catalan Nationalist Fantasy and Spanish Republican Criticism Regarding the Role of Catalonia, 1936–1939
Josep Sánchez Cervelló

The Editor, Translator and Contributors


In the long history of Catalan nationalism, it is curious that the period during which Catalonia enjoyed the highest level of autonomy, the years of the Spanish Civil War, is perhaps the least known. The present volume, with four major contributions from Catalan historians and a fifth from a Galician scholar, fills the gap with a remarkable combination of erudition and originality. The chapters make compelling reading of issues surrounding European statehood. Herewith an immensely important and original contribution to the history of both Catalan nationalism and of the Spanish Civil War.
Prof. Paul Preston, London School of Economics

This is a fine volume with perspectives on the nation-state equivalent of adulthood is as relevant now as it was then. … a historical study that offers a thorough understanding of the path to national sovereignty, with all its perks and pitfalls. While its probable audience is Iberian and European historians, I recommend this book to readers interested in nationalism, statehood, and international politics and diplomacy. Readers will never be more informed about Catalonia’s current situation than by studying the past Catalonia cannot escape.
Reviewed by David Ortiz, University of Arizona in the Bulletin of Spanish Studies: Hispanic Studies and Researches on Spain, Portugal and Latin America, Volume XCVII, Number 10, 2020 

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