From the past to the future – Agustí Colomines i Companys

The Public Administration School of Catalonia (EAPC) is one of the oldest of its kind in the continent of Europe. It was founded in 1912, which is significant because Catalonia was merely a province of Spain at the time. The School has therefore enjoyed a long and lasting history, except for the two times it was closed down by military dictatorships, between 1924 and 1931, and from 1939 to 1979.

Its creation was driven by Enric Prat de la Riba, who was the leader of the Catalan autonomist party, the Lliga Regionalista (Regional League). Despite the Catholic and conservative origins of this important figure and his party, founded at the start of the 20th century, both, in fact, acted as driving forces for the democratic renewal of a very centralist Spain dominated by local political bosses, caciques, with the distortion of democratic standards.

Enric Prat de la Riba forged modern Catalan nationalism, popularly known as catalanisme. The supporters of Catalan autonomy, asserting that Catalonia is a nation from a cultural and historical perspective, which brought them close to the theories of the German philosopher Johann Gottfried von Herder, and convinced that a nation only survives by force of will, which brought them close to the French theoretician Ernest Renan, pushed for the creation of the State structures that Catalonia lacked. Before entering politics, Prat de la Riba wrote that “abstract work in the depths of a solitary study is not possible among us. The special situation of our land, its tragic conflict with the State that governs it, turns all of us into politicians, priests and workers, businessmen and artists, farmers, industrialists, thinkers […] Therefore, those who, in a free Catalonia, in the scarcely-known peace of archives and libraries, would calmly embellish new ideals, the ideals of future generations, must, in the Catalonia of today, where all of us double as politicians, apply the ideas we develop immediately, and we develop those ideas while experiencing them, while fighting in feverish combat, always on the streets and public squares, like the men of the Hellenic  democracies”.

In that sense, Catalanism acted as a modernising factor in Catalan society, the most industrialised in Spain, innovating in various spheres of public life, as well as in public administration. The long struggle to achieve Catalan autonomy, or at least the decentralisation of the State, which was actually achieved between 1914 and 1924, was accompanied – or preceded – by other initiatives such as the founding of the EAPC. For Catalan autonomists the nation was the people, the  economy, the transport network, the introduction of the telephone, its industrial colonies (company towns), the promotion of reading and education, and, of course, the Catalan language and the reassertion of Catalonia’s past, which was particularly glorious during the Middle Ages, when the Catalan count-kings expanded across the Mediterranean. Political autonomy was the organisational translation of the national ideal of a period known as the Renaixença, which was a synthesis of Catalan modernity.

Perhaps because, geographically, Catalonia is in the north-east of the Iberian peninsula, looking out to sea and with the Pyrenees as the only obstacle in the way of linking up with France, it has naturally become a crossroads and a recipient of all kinds of international influences. Today that is expressed by a strong pro-European sentiment, the conviction that our problems are the world’s problems and the only way of solving them is by promoting universal dialogue. A look through the yearbooks of the Institute of Catalan Studies (IEC), the Catalan academia from the time of its creation in 1907 and another initiative of Enric Prat de la Riba, shows the internationalist spirit of Catalan autonomists was essential. At that time the world communicated in French.

The EAPC wants to maintain a dialogue with the world and revive its founder’s spirit of modernity, precisely in the year we are commemorating the anniversary of his death, on August 1, 1917.

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